Advancing a sociotechnical systems approach to workplace safety--developing the conceptual framework

Ergonomics. 2015;58(4):548-64. doi: 10.1080/00140139.2015.1015623. Epub 2015 Apr 2.


Traditional efforts to deal with the enormous problem of workplace safety have proved insufficient, as they have tended to neglect the broader sociotechnical environment that surrounds workers. Here, we advocate a sociotechnical systems approach that describes the complex multi-level system factors that contribute to workplace safety. From the literature on sociotechnical systems, complex systems and safety, we develop a sociotechnical model of workplace safety with concentric layers of the work system, socio-organisational context and the external environment. The future challenges that are identified through the model are highlighted.

Practitioner summary: Understanding the environmental, organisational and work system factors that contribute to workplace safety will help to develop more effective and integrated solutions to deal with persistent workplace safety problems. Solutions to improve workplace safety need to recognise the broad sociotechnical system and the respective interactions between the system elements and levels.

Keywords: complexity; sociotechnical system; system interactions; system levels; workplace safety.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Occupational Health*
  • Safety
  • Systems Analysis*
  • Systems Theory*
  • Workplace