Risk, profit, or safety: Sociotechnical systems under stress

Erkan B. B. , Ertan G., Yea J., Comfort L. K.

SAFETY SCIENCE, vol.88, pp.199-210, 2016 (Journal Indexed in SCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 88
  • Publication Date: 2016
  • Doi Number: 10.1016/j.ssci.2016.02.002
  • Title of Journal : SAFETY SCIENCE
  • Page Numbers: pp.199-210
  • Keywords: Sociotechnical systems, Industrial risk, Coal resources, Mine safety, MINING HAZARDS, MINES


Sociotechnical systems are designed to perform technical functions under organizational management for the benefit of society, but face major challenges in high risk operations such as mining. The mining industry in Turkey confronts a set of conflicting goals. Underground mining is a dangerous operation that creates continuing exposure to risk for miners who extract the coal. Yet, coal is an essential commodity for the growing Turkish economy, with mining operations now largely conducted by private companies seeking to maximize profit. Known strategies for managing mining operations to increase workers' safety exist and have been legally adopted in law and policy in Turkey, but require substantial investment of resources and time to put into practice. These same requirements in practice reduce profit to mining companies and slow production. The challenge is to balance these conflicting pressures in the mining industry to achieve low-cost energy for society, maintain safety for the miners, and ensure reasonable return on investment for mining companies. Achieving this balance in practice represents a classic collective action problem in which maximum benefit to the whole society can only be achieved by reasoned, informed action taken by multiple actors adapting to changing conditions under constraints of limited time and resources. These conflicting demands require a continual process of monitoring uncertain conditions, calibrating investment in safety in relation to cost of failure, and adapting to changing operating conditions in near-real time. We explore this set of conflicting pressures as a policy issue that confronts the mining industry globally, but inquire specifically into conditions that led to the deadly mine fire in Soma, Manisa, Turkey on May 13, 2014 as a study of a sociotechnical system under stress. (C) 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.