The research within this strand is currently focused on exploring normalisation of deviance within the industry, as part of a funded Energy Institute PhD project. Moving forward we hope to expand this topic of research into other contexts including agriculture, forestry and healthcare.
Normalisation of deviance within the Energy Industry
The Energy Industry encompasses multiple elements including oil and gas, wind farms, nuclear and biomass energy. The industry is considered high risk, both in terms of worker safety and the capacity for environmental disaster. The industry has worked hard to develop a solid framework of process safety management (PSM) which aims to reduce the threat of catastrophic incidents and mitigate the consequences of any adverse incidents that do occur. A key aspect of developing and maintaining this framework is understanding the psychological element behind human behaviour, including the causes and impacts of cognitive heuristics (mental shortcuts) and biases. This includes the topic of risk normalisation – the gradual acceptance of ever-increasing levels of risk due to a perceived absence of negative associated consequence. Through this process, poor practices and anomalies gradually become integrated into normal operations, perpetuating the perception that a certain level of deviance is expected and therefore acceptable (normalisation of deviance). Despite the potential importance of understanding these aspects of human behaviour, there is still a lack of comprehensive research on these, particularly regarding why and how biases and normalisation develop within the context of the Energy Industry.
The PhD project aims to explore cognitive bias and risk normalisation within the context of the energy industry. Now in its second year, the project has encompassed the following studies thus far:
- Systematic review of the literature, which produced a new conceptual framework of normalisation of deviance within high-risk industry, encompassing risk normalisation and a number of organisational factors that contribute to the phenomenon.
- Analysis of real-world incidents to validate and further develop the proposed conceptual framework of normalisation of deviance, specifically regarding the identified organisational factors.
- An interview study to explore these factors from the perspective of frontline workers.