Key Takeaways

- Operating a business for long periods without major incidents may create a culture of ease, which can cause organizations and individuals to drop their guard and lose their sense of vulnerability.

- Failing to maintain a sense of vulnerability has led to major disasters in industrial settings. While scholars and practitioners have emphasized the importance of instilling and maintaining a sense of vulnerability in organizations, information on how to maintain such vulnerability has been found to be limited.

- Involving four oil refining organizations, this qualitative research study proposes an empirical framework for organizations and individuals to adopt to maintain a sense of vulnerability in a quest to prevent incidents.

- This study signifies the influence of on-the-job and personal factors on the sense of vulnerability through perception patterns. Furthermore, this study developed a tool to assess the vulnerability in industrial settings based on the critical factors and components that are integral parts of the proposed framework.


Many businesses today strive for an injury-free workplace, ensuring that every employee returns home from work without injury every day. Nonetheless, Sanders (2013) notes that long periods without significant incidents may create an unwarranted sense of complacency and a relaxation of discipline. Complacency is frequently cited as a major contributor to industrial incidents and disasters (Årstad & Aven, 2017; Hyten & Ludwig, 2017; Innes-Jones & Scandpower, 2012). The opposite of complacency is “chronic unease,” a term first coined by Reason (1997). Chronic unease might result from the absence of negative events and lead people not to “forget to be afraid.” Often associated with high-reliability organizations, chronic unease is a healthy skepticism about what people see and how they react. It is about inquiry and probing deeper, really understanding the risks and exposures, and not assuming that just because systems are in place everything will be fine (Risktec, 2014).

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