Current approaches to system design are undergoing an adaptive shift with an increasing focus on safety. This shift is in a positive direction. Prevention through Design (PtD) concepts and system safety engineering are being applied to both organizations and engineered systems, which are being designed on a more frequent basis to minimize hazards and to reduce the likelihood for human error and injury. This is an outstanding approach to safety because many have now realized that while human performance deficiencies can be a contributing factor to mishaps, certain human errors are often the result of inadequate system design, not necessarily the cause of a mishap. Error-provocative environments often place humans in a position to adapt to the work environment in order to preempt accidents and/or to mitigate the effects of error-inducing equipment and work processes. Designing systems to minimize human error is a noteworthy and necessary endeavor, but in some cases, the capacity for human and team decision-making may be reduced during this process, which may be an unintended consequence of safe-system design.
Humans are sometimes referred to as an unreliable part of a system that would be safe if it were not for the humans making errors (Dekker 1). Since people are often viewed as unreliable or prone to error, many systems are designed to limit their capacity to make decisions and take action. This may limit opportunities for improved system functioning and safety. Rather than simply designing systems to remove the capacity for humans to make choices and decisions regarding safety, organizations and engineered systems should be designed to maximize safety by reducing risk to a level As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP) while preserving human performance capabilities to meet the objectives of the business. This is a delicate balance, but one that must be considered, particularly for organizations with teams or crews that work in dynamic environments and where unexpected events requiring human intervention may occur. When organizations create layers of safety in the forms of policies, rules, Personal Protective Equipment, and safety technology, a potential shortfall may be created where employee effectiveness (and potentially safety) is reduced as a result of unintended consequences. Additionally, safety is an emergent property of the system, which means that what may be considered safe at lower levels may have different implications when viewed in the context of the larger system (Leveson 64).