Safety management -
an essential Nordic research area

Reprint from Nordic Labour Journal 2/1997 (p. 22-25), Nordic Council of Ministers

Dr. Lars Harms-Ringdahl
Institute for Risk management and Safety analysis,
Bergsprängargränd 2, S-116 35 Stockholm, Sweden.
Tel: + 46 8 643 20 80; Email:

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A survey of safety management research has been carried out in the Nordic countries. More than a hundred projects have been analysed. The prevention of hazards is a complex area which needs to considered to a greater extent in future safety research. One recommendation is to support the crossing of barriers such as formal research areas and responsibilities of authorities, scientific disciplines, and the application areas. Research strategies are need in order to study the risks of tomorrow. Whose responsibility this?

Safety and feeling safe is central to most citizens, both at work and during free time. Every year however, deficiencies in the control of risks cause injuries to a large number of people and damage to property and the environment. This constitutes a very complex problem with distinct ethical and social considerations. Furthermore, it results in considerable costs to society and industry. Also, the control of risks involves a large effort and obligation and on the part of the society.

Safety is of relevance to many different sectors of the society. Examples of application areas where safety management plays, or potentially will play an important role, are industry, transportation and health services. Risks can concern negative effects on safety, health, and the environment, as well as security and quality aspects. The hazards concerned can have both acute and delayed effects.

There are many changes in modern society influencing the risks and also the risk prevention strategies. One example is the invasion of information technology. The handling of information at different levels becomes more and more essential for safety. Technical and administrative systems are linked together in sophisticated patterns. Many machines and devices today contain microprocessors. The security and vulnerability aspects on this development today get high attention. However, the safety consequences also need to be further addressed, both in the decision making process and in research.

Scientific and practical experiences show that accident prevention measures, both industrial and societal, can be improved and made more efficient. The prevention of injuries and damage contains an important European perspective as standards, directives and national regulations are often based on European Community decisions.

An integrated perspective on safety

The complexity and various aspects involved have led to a situation where risk prevention is divided into a number of specialist areas, which are regulated by separate authorities and studied in different scientific disciplines. This situation presents difficulties for both those involved in finding the practical solutions, and those checking the safety of the system.

A more comprehensive and integrated perspective on safety issues is desirable. However, the word integrated can be interpreted differently by different people, depending on their background. All have relevance in the appropriate context. In the study, the principle meanings of "integrated" were:

Man, technique and organisation
Safety performance depends on a combination of psychological, technical, and managerial functions.

Different risks
Management systems have many common features in achieve to obtain safety, health, and environmental protection, as well as security and quality.

Tools in safety management
Safety management can be seen as a "toolbox", containing different methods and approaches. It can include hazard identification, risk assessment, preventive measures, emergency planning etc.

It is essential to consider safety aspects both during the design, construction, operation and destruction of, e.g. a factory. Life-cycle aspects are well known from the environmental area, but need to be considered also for safety and health.

"Normal" management
A further aspect is how "normal" day-to-day management is related to safety issues. Are they integrated or separated?

Safety research

A large amount of research in safety management and related areas is being carried out in the Nordic countries. The situation was discussed several years ago by a group of researchers. They found it essential to obtain an overview of the safety research being done, not only within their own specialist areas but also within other specialist areas. However, such a summary of research and results was lacking. A broad overview would enable research results to be more unable and better available for practical and regulatory accident prevention.

The researchers put forward a project proposal which gained the support of several research councils. The project is now complete, and a survey on Nordic research on integrated safety management has been published by the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Results of the survey

The survey was aimed at identifying recent research in the Nordic countries in the field of safety management and related areas. Another aim was to find out what the researchers think their most important results are. The survey could also be seen as a forum for presenting the results to a wider audience than usual. One important issue was to find a structure and format for collecting information that could be understood and used in different "research cultures".

The survey questionnaire resulted in 108 descriptions of research. These descriptions are included in the report. The obtained material has been analysed and commented in a number of ways. It contains a selection of important results that gives the reader a fairly good overview of recent Nordic research in this field. A database has been created, which could also be used for later analysis.

The report can be seen as a tool for:
- finding information and reports in the area of safety management,
- finding research groups and collaborators in the area,
- analysis of particular research fields.

The results described in the 108 abstracts were of various types. For example, there were 61 projects which aimed at developing tools or methods of some kind. Of these, 17 were software tools. However, it was not clear in all cases to what extent these tools have, or will, come into practical use. It is therefore difficult to draw conclusions on how these results have been used.

The key-word was "integrated safety management research" indicating that the survey was also aiming to intersect the boundaries of traditional research areas. As a result, a number of project fell outside the scope of the survey. Furthermore, a number of institutes did not return any answers. Consequently, we know that the survey does not cover all the research carried out in the field.

Researchers' conclusions and recommendations

The report contains a section with conclusions and recommendations from the researchers who designed the survey. The most essential were:

Needs for research
The need for more research is apparent for some areas. The conclusions are based on the fact that little or no research was reported and that the area could be regarded as essential. Some areas included are:
- general evaluation of safety management approaches,
- evaluation of different approaches based on real results, e.g. accidents
- evaluation of environment management schemes,
- studies and evaluation of integrated approaches,

Better utilisation of results
One of the main conclusions is that research results could be used in a more systematic and efficient manner. Much research is carried out in fields close to each other. It appears to be possible to utilise results from different applications and to learn across the barriers.

It is recommended that the research councils and other organisations initiate and maintain activities to identify, evaluate, and support the utilisation of research results from research. The responsibility for this should not be thrown upon the individual researchers as it is a societal responsibility.

Utilising results on a Nordic basis
There are several ways to achieve a better utilisation of the results of research projects. The Nordic countries could be a suitable base for initiating this. The researchers recommend that a targeted discussion is started on this issue. One example of activity would be to set up Nordic ad hoc committees for reviewing certain areas within the field of integrated safety management. Of course, this could also be made on a European level, although this might be a too difficult a task to set up.

Seminar in Brussels

The report was discussed by various research councils, and a wish was expressed to bring it into a wider context. In the beginning of June 1997, a seminar was arranged in Brussels with the title “Society, environment and safety - future European research issues“. The organisers were the Swedish Council for Planning and Coordination of Research together with the Academy of Finland, the Danish Research Councils, and the Research Council of Norway.

The aim was to promote the discussions on risk and safety research, both in a broad societal context and from practical industrial experiences. The seminar also placed great relevance on research issues related to the planning of the Fifth Framework Programme. In the invitation to the seminar, three major questions were addressed:

What is the panorama of risks for the next 10 years?

What knowledge is needed to handle the risk problems of tomorrow?

An important goal on the political agenda is to establish a sustainable development. Other important goals that must be met simultaneously are to maintain good safety and health. What research is needed to improve strategies, methods and techniques in order to achieve these goals?

The seminar programme included experiences from Nordic safety research and from the survey. Views on industrial safety research were also expressed in presentations from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, the European Environmental Agency, and the DG XII of the European Commission .

Following the presentations, a long and vivid discussion took place centred on the view that the aim of research on risk and risk prevention is to improve the scientific basis for the social and industrial risk management. In many ways the discussion confirmed the need for a wider cooperation on research on safety and related areas.

For example, there are many similarities in risk management needs which extend over different application areas. Contributions to the discussion came from fields such as industry, food production, transportation, consumer safety and health, safety and health at work, and the environment.

Furthermore, the programme promoted an improved cooperation between different scientific disciplines, including social sciences as well as technical and natural sciences. In this respect, goal-oriented coordination and support for networks could be vital for the research and the applications. A European co-operation was regarded to be of great importance in order to obtain research results of a high standard, which can be put to practical use subsequent to evaluation.


Earlier, I had the impression that this kind of research was split and stored in small boxes customised to different disciplines and different applications. The walls of the boxes have been surprisingly high and strong. As one of the organisers of the survey and the seminar, I have found it very encouraging to see the high level of interest in both activities. The survey and the seminar have also highlighted the various opportunities for obtaining more useful safety research.

In my view, the three most important aims of safety research in the future are:

- To evaluate and utilise research results in a more systematic and efficient way.

- To support the crossing of barriers, such as formal research areas and responsibilities of authorities, scientific disciplines, and the application areas.

- To find strategies for proactive research looking at the risks of tomorrow (perhaps easy to say, but not to do).

It will be very interesting to see whether anybody will step forward to take serious responsibility and the necessary initiative in this direction.


The report:

Integrated Safety Management in Industry – a Survey of Nordic Research (TemaNord 1997:573)

Harms-Ringdahl L, Jansson T, Kuusisto A, Malmén Y, Aamnes Mostue B, Rasmussen B, and Ruuhilehto K.

Published by the Nordic Council of Ministers, Copenhagen, 1997 (280 pp).

Distribution: Our agents. Price DKK 75; + VAT

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Comments by the project leader Yngve Malmén.

Senior Research Scientist, VTT Manufacturing Technology, Tampere, Finland

Research results are published in many languages, by several publishers, and in a variety of forms, such as articles, research reports, and software tools. This inevitably leads to a situation where important results often remain unknown to potential users and other researchers. A Nordic project was set up to collect summaries of results from research that recently had be carried out in the Nordic countries in the field of integrated risk management. During the analysis of the survey responses, it was noted that the dissemination of the results was not an easy task for some of the researchers or research groups.

The recently published report which summarises these results in the form they were presented by the researchers is a step in the right direction, although the information is probably insufficient for immediate use by the industry. Far more work is needed to mould the most important and useful results from different projects into an easy-to-use format. Unfortunately there seem to be few organisations, if any, that focus on turning research results from different research groups into useful methods or products. It should be a task for the society, not only to fund research, but also to enable as many users as possible to benefit from the results of this research. In the field of integrated risk management, the Nordic countries are considered to be a suitable entity for carrying out this type of task. We can only hope that somebody will take the initiative, and that the resources needed can be found in the future.

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