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Organizational sensemaking about risk controls: the case of offshore hydrocarbons production

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2014
JournalRisk Analysis
Early online date1/04/14
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

In the same way that individuals’ risk perceptions can influence how they behave toward risks, how organizational members make sense of risk controls is an important influence on how they apply and maintain such controls. In this article, we describe an analysis of sensemaking about the control of risk in offshore hydrocarbons production, an industry that continues to produce disasters of societal significance. A field study of 80 interviews was conducted in five offshore oil and gas companies and the agency that regulates them. The interviews were analyzed using qualitative template analysis. This provided a categorization of the many ways of acting through which informants made sense of the risk control task, and indicated that the organizations placed substantially different emphases on different ways of acting. Nevertheless, this sensemaking fell into two broad classes: that which tended to limit or be pessimistic about organizational controls, and that which tended to extend or be optimistic about organizational controls. All the participating organizations collectively placed a balanced emphasis on these two classes. We argue that this balanced sensemaking is an adaptation rather than a deliberate choice, but that it is an important element of controlling risk in its own right.