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PSYC432 Special Topic: Safety Science and Application

Examination of traditional views on safety as reflected in current approaches to risk and safety, particularly in high-risk industries.

Safety is the absence of incidents and accidents - seems simple enough. Or is it? This course will examine traditional views on safety as reflected in current approaches to safety and risk management particularly in high-risk industries. We will then examine some very recently proposed alternative approaches that have emerged in the 21st century and look at the application of different safety perspectives in a variety of major accidents and disasters.

Paper title Special Topic: Safety Science and Application
Paper code PSYC432
Subject Psychology
EFTS 0.0833
Points 10 points
Teaching period First Semester
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $653.49
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $2,757.23

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Paper Structure

PSYC 432 consists of lectures (including guest lecturers) and student presentations followed by group discussion. The course will begin by considering traditional person-based approaches to risk, error and safety. We will then look at engineering oriented approaches from Human Reliability Analyses to Leveson’s control theory of safety. Lastly we will traverse a range of contemporary approaches proposed by Rasmussen, Dekker and Hollnagel as well as precursor approaches to looking at failures in complex systems such as Perrow’s ‘normal accidents’ and Vaughan’s ‘normalisation of deviance’.

Teaching Arrangements

Weekly meeting consisting of lectures and presentations.


Professor David O’Hare (

Teaching staff

Professor David O’Hare


A wide range of recommended readings (books and journal articles) will be made available on eReserve (link on Blackboard).

Graduate Attributes Emphasised

Interdisciplinary perspective, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Ethics, Research, Self-motivation, Teamwork.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.

Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete PSYC 432 will:

  • Understand the traditional (individualistic) approach to risk and safety.
  • Understand recent engineering and organisational approaches to risk and safety.
  • Evaluate published accident reports in relation to the different perspectives on risk and safety.
  • Independently research a reported accident or incident and demonstrate the application of one or more theoretical perspectives to understanding the event.
  • Prepare and deliver an effective oral presentation on a topic covered in the course.
  • Engage in collaborative participation in class and write a short report summarising one of the class seminars.


Entry into Psychology 400-level normally requires a major in Psychology, a B+ average or higher in Psychology 300-level papers, and a pass in PSYC 311 Quantitative Methods. We highly recommend that students have completed PSYC 310. Students from other universities must show evidence of an equivalent level of competence.

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First Semester

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Wednesday 13:00-14:50 9-16, 18-22