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Vulnerability of organizations

The ability of organizations to make sense of the state of their environment, to detect new threats, to adopt new technologies and organizational attributes, contribute to their resilience.

The stakes and objectives

Safety means guaranteeing the absence of risk of intolerable losses. A great deal of R&D has been aimed at this objective. However, the proposed solutions generally assume that the state of the environment is known, in particular in terms of human resources, organizational processes and tools. In practice, these conditions are often not satisfied in industry. There is a need better to understand the way in which companies and other organisations that manage potentially hazardous activies may become safer, how they may reinforce their resistance to unwanted change and failure (notion of “resilience”), both at the technical and technological, humain and organisational levels, and at the interface between these various levels.

Among the novel approaches for improving the management of these vulnerabilities, the following research points appear particularly interesting:

  • mechanisms and means that encourage continual critical review/assessment of the models and tools used at the end of the design phase to characterise operational risks in operation (given the importance of simulation techniques, the increasing difficulty of revisiting the fundamental assumptions made during the design phase, given also the manner in which these tools and models are learned and used by the people who manage risks);
  • mechanisms and means that allow the safety impact of design errors and operational errors to be tolerated;
  • new attitudes to rules and regulations; degrees of freedom/autonomy given to individuals or workplace collectives that may help resolve problems caused by the multiplicity of cultural repertoires (systems of values and strategies used to justify one’s position on a controversial issue) within companies;
  • the organisational designs and operational modes that may allow: vigilance, effective transfer of knowledge and know-how, the development of a “safety memory” (for instance transverse or network-oriented organisations); effective interaction between quality assurance procedures and safety procedures; the detection and analysis of “safety drift”, of “normalization of deviance” and their integration with the risk management system; the management of increasing diversity in the workforce (in particular due to subcontracting).

Research programme

This was the theme chosen by Foncsi for a call for proposals in 2006. Amongst the new paths which could be followed in order to better manage vulnerabilities, particular attention was paid to student projects that provided:

  • The procedures and means to maintain critical thinking about the models and evaluation tools during the implementation phase, beyond  the design phase;
  • The procedures and means to recover, in terms of safety,  design flaws as well as user related errors,
  • The new approach to rules, the degrees of autonomy, both on an  individual as well as on a group level, that could correct problems posed by the wide range of work ethics and reference points  within companies
  • The organizational designs, the operating procedures which incude permanent monitoring,  vigilance, transmission of  knowledge and  know-how,  memory with regards to safety (cross functional organizations, networked organizations, etc.); articulation between the quality and safety modes of thinking; Identification and analysis of  "drifts", of the deviance normalization processes and their integration into risk management; Player diversification management (in particular within the  subcontracting framework, etc.).

The projects

> The writing and testing of a Human factors and Organizational Safety reference document, a project that is being led by François Daniellou

> Towards an implementation of the concepts and methods dealing with organizational resilience, a project that is being led by Yves Dien (R&D EDF)

> Validation of a technical, human and organizational assessment method of safety (AATHOS), a project that is being led by Jean-Christophe Lecoze (INERIS)

> Social risk sharing as a management necessity? The risk industry case near Marseille, a project that is led by Jean-Michel Fourniau (CESSA)