A paper from Sidney Dekker et al. describing a previously unlabelled and under-theorised problem in safety management – ‘safety clutter’.
Safety clutter is the accumulation of safety procedures, documents, roles, and activities that are performed in the name of safety, but do not contribute to the safety of operations. Safety clutter is a problem because of the opportunity cost of ineffective activity, because clutter results in cynicism and ‘surface compliance,’ and because clutter can hamper innovation and get in the way of getting work done.
The authors of this paper identify three main mechanisms that generate clutter: duplication, generalisation, and over-specification of safety activities. These mechanisms in turn are driven by asymmetry between the ease and the opportunity of adding or expanding safety activities, and the difficulty and lack of opportunity for reducing or removing safety activities.
At the end of the paper, the authors provide some concrete suggestions for reducing safety clutter, based on our analysis of the problem.