Safety science, a systems thinking perspective: From events to mental models and sustainable safety

Peter Blokland*, Genserik Reniers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
138 Downloads (Pure)


In the past one hundred years, concepts such as risk, safety and security have become ever more important and they represent a growing concern in our society. These concepts are also important subjects of study to enhance sustainability. During the past fifty years, safety science has gradually developed as an independent field of science. In this period, different concepts, theories, models and research traditions have emerged, each with its specific perspective. Safety science is now focused on finding ways to proactively achieve safety versus reaching safety in a reactive way. We think this increasing awareness and search for proactiveness can be found and presented when viewed in light of the systems thinking iceberg model, where increasing awareness and proactiveness can be seen as digging deeper into this systems thinking iceberg, discovering the levels of systems, structures and ultimately the mental models that are "below the waterline". It offers a way forward in understanding, and proactively managing, risk, safety, security and sustainable performance, in organizations and ultimately in society as a whole.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5164
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Mental models
  • Performance
  • Risk
  • Safety
  • Security
  • Sustainability
  • Systems thinking

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