Defining the methodological challenges and opportunities for an effective science of sociotechnical systems and safety

Ergonomics. 2015;58(4):565-99. doi: 10.1080/00140139.2015.1015622. Epub 2015 Apr 2.


An important part of the application of sociotechnical systems theory (STS) is the development of methods, tools and techniques to assess human factors and ergonomics workplace requirements. We focus in this paper on describing and evaluating current STS methods for workplace safety, as well as outlining a set of six case studies covering the application of these methods to a range of safety contexts. We also describe an evaluation of the methods in terms of ratings of their ability to address a set of theoretical and practical questions (e.g. the degree to which methods capture static/dynamic aspects of tasks and interactions between system levels). The outcomes from the evaluation highlight a set of gaps relating to the coverage and applicability of current methods for STS and safety (e.g. coverage of external influences on system functioning; method usability). The final sections of the paper describe a set of future challenges, as well as some practical suggestions for tackling these.

Practitioner summary: We provide an up-to-date review of STS methods, a set of case studies illustrating their use and an evaluation of their strengths and weaknesses. The paper concludes with a 'roadmap' for future work.

Keywords: human factors and ergonomics methods; macroergonomics; sociotechnical systems; workplace design and evaluation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Environment Design*
  • Ergonomics*
  • Humans
  • Models, Organizational
  • Occupational Health*
  • Organizational Culture
  • Safety
  • Systems Analysis*
  • Workplace