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Launched Aug 26 1996.


by R. E. McClay, CSP East Carolina University Greenville, NC



It has been well established that the focus of the discipline of ÑSafety Scienceæ and the practice of the Safety Professional is the anticipation, recognition, evaluation and control of hazards. This can be said to be a major and critical segment of the Ñscope and function of the Safety Professionæ. (ASSE) When examining related disciplines such as the Medical Profession, the Legal Profession and Engineering, one finds that well formalized, extensive and accepted schema exist within these professions for examining, describing and studying phenomena of interest. That is true also to a certain extent in the Safety Profession. The coefficient of friction of flooring surfaces, the design strength of anchorage points, the flash point of liquids and the threshold limits of toxic materials all illustrate well established, formalized, agreed upon principles that are used by the Safety Profession on a regular basis to describe and characterize potential hazards and hazard control measures. However, in the area of incident causation it would appear that a critical gap exists in our science, in that well established, accepted, generalized principles useful in explaining this phenomenon, are extremely limited. (Manuele 167) And since this is such a vital and central core concept within the Ñmetaphysicsæ of Safety Science, it is probably no exaggeration to say that such a deficiency undermines the efficacy and validity of our discipline. Even worse, since the related disciplines mentioned earlier do have accepted and operable schema that they use for explaining the phenomena of incident causation, the Safety Profession could one day find itself relegated to a less significant role in applying preventive strategies across the broad expanse of the hazard control spectra. In short, we are missing the ÑRosetta Stoneæ needed to decipher the phenomena of incident causation and we as a profession need to work more diligently to find it.

This is not to say that Safety Science is totally without stepping stones and guideposts to assist us in explaining the incident causation process. Nevertheless, in this age of mapquest and global positioning systems, we need more than a broken, muddy path to lead us to the true causes of incidents.


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