James Reason’s new book “A Life in Error: from little slips to big disasters”

‘This book is like a personal and intimate trip through the ideas that pioneered human error and industrial safety. It goes into day-to-day experience of errors, contains testimonials and anecdotal information, and widens to system safety. Everything seems to have been said on the topic, and yet the book puts the matter differently in a manner that is true, full and in plain, jargon-free language. I love this book.’    René Amalberti, Haute Autorité de Santé, France

‘Reason’s new book is a master class on human error: a concise tour of his career explaining how mistakes can occur. It is a pleasure to accompany him while he presents his favourite and often funny accounts of fallibility, tempered with insights on the resulting risks and how they can be mitigated.’   Rhona Flin, University of Aberdeen, UK

From James Reason’s introductory note to his new book A Life in Error:

A Life in ErrorThis short book covers the main way stations on my 40-year journey in pursuit of the nature and varieties of human error. Inevitably they represent a very personal perspective, but I have also sought to include contrary opinions.

The journey, as at this point, begins with a bizarre, absent-minded action slip committed by me in the early 1970s—putting cat food into the teapot— and continues until the present with a variety of major accidents that have shaped my thinking about unsafe acts and latent conditions.

The original focus of this enquiry was individual cognitive psychology, but over the years the scope has gradually widened to embrace social, organizational and systemic issues. For the most part, my interest here is more on the journey than on the details of each waypoint—though there will be some exceptions. There are two reasons for this. First, many of the waypoints have been covered in previous Ashgate books. Second, I want to focus on the factors either in my head or in the world that prompted the next step in the journey.

This book is written for all those who have an interest in human factors and their interactions with the workings of technological systems whose occasional breakdowns can cause serious damage to people, assets and the environment. This is a large and diverse group whose number, I hope, includes students, academics and safety professionals of all kinds—and has lately included a growing number of health carers. Where possible, I have tried to make clear the thinking and—if you’ll excuse the unavoidable pun—the reasoning that contributed to the models, metaphors, taxonomies and practices that have influenced the course of this journey.

This succinct but absorbing book covers the main way stations on James Reason’s 40-year journey in pursuit of the nature and varieties of human error. A Life in Error charts the development of his seminal and hugely influential work from its original focus into individual cognitive psychology through the broadening of scope to embrace social, organizational and systemic issues. The voyage recounted is both hugely entertaining and educational, imparting a real sense of how James Reason’s ground-breaking theories changed the way we think about human error, and why he is held in such esteem around the world wherever humans interact with technological systems.

About the Author: James Reason has written books on motion sickness, absent-mindedness, human error, aviation human factors, managing the risks of organizational accidents, managing maintenance errors, and the human contribution: unsafe acts, accidents and heroic recoveries. He has worked in a wide variety of hazardous industries, though patient safety is now his primary concern. In 2003, he was awarded an honorary DSc by the University of Aberdeen. He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society, the Royal Aeronautical Society, the British Academy and the Royal College of General Practitioners. He received a CBE in 2003 for his services to reducing the risks in health care. In 2010, he received an Award for Distinguished Service from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and in 2011 was elected an honorary fellow of the Safety and Reliability Society.

‘This book is an authoritative reminder of the journey to gain acceptance of human error as intrinsic to open systems operations as we enjoy it today, portrayed by the witty pen of one of its topmost trailblazers. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and found the segment on organizational accidents a particular gem.’   Daniel E. Maurino, formerly Coordinator of the Flight Safety and Human Factors Study Programme, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

‘A fascinating personal and intellectual journey showing the evolution of both James Reason’s personal approach and also the broader history of thinking on error and safety. He has a unique gift for making complex ideas accessible within an absorbing and lucid narrative. And all leavened with wonderful examples of human error and some great stories.’   Charles Vincent, Imperial College London, UK

 ‘Each chapter of this book tells a story where Reason personally confronted a puzzle about accidents, human performance, or organizational decisions. Together the stories build a comprehensive picture of how safety is created but sometime undermined.’   David D. Woods, Ohio State University, USA

‘In this delightful memoir, Jim Reason provides an amazingly comprehensive and understandable explanation of how and why individuals and organizations make mistakes and what to do about it. A valuable review for experts and a perfect introduction for beginners.’   Lucian Leape, Harvard University, USA

More information about A Life in Error: From little slips to big disasters

4 thoughts on “James Reason’s new book “A Life in Error: from little slips to big disasters”

  1. Carsten

    A nice little book that nicely wraps up Reason’s seminal work, but I’m wondering if the editorial errors are intentional (and if so, why not explained/commented): references to chapter numbers are wrong on most, or all, occasions, and a most embarrassing and huge mistake slipped into the David and Goliath story…

    1. ashgatepublishing Post author

      Thank you for submitting this query about errors. Unfortunately, these are not intentional. We are aware of errors with incorrect chapter numbers being referred to, but we would be grateful if you are able to provide a bit more information about the error in the David and Goliath story. We would like to make sure the errors are corrected for any future reprint.

      1. Carsten

        Thanks for a quick response, and the willingness to learn which certainly is fully in line with Professor Reason’s work for which I have the utmost respect!

        I honestly wondered if the David & Goliath error on page 70 was some kind of “Easter Egg” to test reader’s responses, but I’m quite happy to explain:

        It says that Goliath challenges King Solomon’s army. It was in fact King Saul’s army that was challenged.
        David was a teenager at the time, but his father was called Jesse (Isia). David was not related to King Saul.
        King Solomon was not yet born at the time. He was actually one of David’s younger sons and he succeeded King David many years after.

        For true reference, check the First Book of Samuel, chapter 17. For an interesting and amusing discussion of the story I’d recommend reading the first chapter of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book (incidentally also titled David & Goliath).

        Kind regards!

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