Application of systems thinking in organisational safety.
Organisations operate in environments that are characterised by constant change, they therefore should to be flexible enough to adapt to those changes for survival. It is argued that the greater the variability of the external environment the less structured the organisation should be, though these environmental changes in organisations can emerge in different modes, which can be; technological, economic and/or political (for example, the outcry of the country’s youth for the nationalisation of mines and economic freedom) to mention but a few. The impetus for the research is to address organisational safety through identifying methodologies that are motivated by systems thinking. Systems theory embraces both the ontological and epistemological views, in that the environment we live in is made up of systems (ontological view) and the very same systems interact at a given time and period with each other including the elements or subsystems that are in existence (epistemological view). The researcher adopted the soft systems methodology by acknowledging the complexity of the challenge but believes it affords an opportunity to learn and teach others about solving problems using systemic processes. Conventional management has often failed to address ‘messy’ challenges as it fails to take into consideration the existence of external and internal environments that influences the manner in which the elements interact in transforming input into desired output. When one takes into consideration mining and its related industries, the mining activities have become complex, costly, highly technical, and have been associated with high fatality rates due to the conditions and mining methods employed. Mining operations have for years been characterized by unsafe working environments leading to high levels of fatal injuries and management in general, whether at supervisor or other levels is faced with this enormous challenge influenced by a number of factors like; personal belief systems and behaviour, business value systems, business priorities, stakeholder and other expectations. Subsequent to the enormous work that has been done to date, together with recommended strategies and also acknowledging that not all problems are systems problems, this research endeavours to demonstrate that the application of system thinking to organisational safety can positively contribute towards addressing the challenge faced by the mining industry and other organisations. The use of soft system methodology brought about the ability to qualify the nature of interactions between the factors that exist in the environment within which these organisations operate for survival. There are three factors that influences safety in organisations, namely discipline, attitude and behaviour which makes the researcher to believe there is a long way towards reaching Zero Harm in work places and yet noticeable improvements has already been accomplished.