Objective: What metaphors, models and theories were developed in the safety science domain? And which research was based upon ‘big data’? Method: The study was confined to original articles and documents, written in English or Dutch from the period under consideration. Results and conclusions: From the start of the 20th century, human error was a dominant explanation for causes of occupational accidents. Although external factors were seen as main contributors, it was not till after World War II when scenario analysis was conducted in detail. The main drivers were the upscaling op the process industry in this period, as well as the introduction of high hazardous industries, like aerospace and nuclear sector, and consequently disasters occurring in these sectors. Already from the beginning, big data research was no exception in the safety science domain. ‘Big’ in this context is defined by numbers.