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Investigating the relationship between human responses and major safety incidents in the process industries

Project Description

Typically safety events, including major safety incidents, can have far reach consequences in terms of losses for businesses and society as a whole. The majority of safety events occur due to human errors. The implication is that human responses, which could be seen as parts of the layers of protection in a process, are very susceptible to error. Hence, understanding how humans make decisions during such events is important in order to provide the correct type of support and training for problem solving and decision making.

Operational Research as a field aims to help people with problem solving and decision making. In recent years the need to incorporate behavioural characteristics issues to Operational Research has become more apparent as it is recognised that humans are a key part throughout any decision making process even when dealing with model based decision making. Similarly, the use and development of models that consider Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis can support and informed decision making.

The purpose of this research is to investigate the relationship between human responses and major safety incidents in the process industries, in particular in the oil and gas industry, and the context in which these occur (e.g. company safety culture, Process Safety Management Systems, individual cognitive biases and abilities, teamwork). This will be done by analysing and framing how the decisions made along the way lead to such incidents. The project will explore the potential of using tools based on Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA) and Behavioural Operational Research (BOR) frameworks to help devising adequate training strategies and mechanisms that can lead to better ‘decision-making’ in safety contexts. This will in turn lead to a reduction of potential for failure of humans acting as part of the safety barriers in a process operation consequently improving safety systems in general.

The project will suit a student with a background in chemical engineering or a cognate discipline (e.g. physics, applied mathematics, mechanical engineering) as well as social sciences (e.g. psychology, ergonomics, education).

In addition to undertaking cutting edge research, students are also registered for the Postgraduate Certificate in Researcher Development (PGCert), which is a supplementary qualification that develops a student’s skills, networks and career prospects.

Information about the host department can be found by visiting:

Funding Notes

This PhD project is initially offered on a self-funding basis. It is open to applicants with their own funding, or those applying to funding sources. However, excellent candidates may be considered for a University scholarship.

Students applying should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum 2.1 undergraduate degree in a relevant engineering/science or education discipline. Candidates with masters level are preferred, but exceptional candidates at bachelors level can also be considered.

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