Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology

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Volume 82 Issue 2 (June 2009), Pages 233-463

Making risks visible: Identifying and interpreting threats to airline flight safety (pages 273-293)

This research investigated how new or previously unrecognized risks are identified in organizations by risk managers. Managing risk is an increasingly important and widespread task in modern organizations, and the initial identification of risks is one of the key challenges of risk management. However, the psychological processes through which risks are initially identified and interpreted in organizations remain unclear. This paper presents a qualitative study of airline flight safety investigators. The interpretive processes, knowledge, and assumptions underlying risk identification in this setting were examined. The findings suggest that risks were initially identified through an interpretive process of finding gaps or inadequacies in investigators' current knowledge. Investigators engaged in interpretive processes that aimed to construct small moments of doubt, where current knowledge was found to be questionable or suspect in some way. These interpretive processes were underpinned by assumptions that organizational knowledge was inherently limited, partial, and fallible. The implications of these findings are discussed in relation to theories of organizational sensemaking, decision‐making, and expertise, and practices of risk management.

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