Sociotechnical attributes of safe and unsafe work systems

Brian M. Kleiner, Lawrence J. Hettinger, David M. DeJoy, Yuang Hsiang Huang, Peter E.D. Love

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Theoretical and practical approaches to safety based on sociotechnical systems principles place heavy emphasis on the intersections between social–organisational and technical–work process factors. Within this perspective, work system design emphasises factors such as the joint optimisation of social and technical processes, a focus on reliable human–system performance and safety metrics as design and analysis criteria, the maintenance of a realistic and consistent set of safety objectives and policies, and regular access to the expertise and input of workers. We discuss three current approaches to the analysis and design of complex sociotechnical systems: human–systems integration, macroergonomics and safety climate. Each approach emphasises key sociotechnical systems themes, and each prescribes a more holistic perspective on work systems than do traditional theories and methods. We contrast these perspectives with historical precedents such as system safety and traditional human factors and ergonomics, and describe potential future directions for their application in research and practice.

Practitioner Summary: The identification of factors that can reliably distinguish between safe and unsafe work systems is an important concern for ergonomists and other safety professionals. This paper presents a variety of sociotechnical systems perspectives on intersections between social–organisational and technology–work process factors as they impact work system analysis, design and operation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)635-649
Number of pages15
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 3 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • human–systems integration
  • macroergonomics
  • occupational safety
  • safety climate
  • sociotechnical systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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