Todd Jerome Jenkins, MS, CSP, SMS, CHST, STSC

Safety Aficionado & Ph.D. Student

Introduction to Dr. James Reason

James Reason is a well-known and respected figure in human factors and safety. He has significantly contributed to understanding human error and designing systems promoting safety. This article will provide an overview of James Reason’s work, including a review of his significant contributions to safety, human factors, and organizational management.

Early Life and Education

James Reason was born in 1938 in Kent, England. He received his Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of London in 1960 and his Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology from the University of Edinburgh in 1965. He began his academic career as a lecturer at the University of Manchester, teaching from 1965 to 1976.

Significant Contributions to the Field

James Reason’s contributions to the field of safety, human factors, and organizational management are numerous and significant. One of his major contributions is the development of the Swiss Cheese Model of Accident Causation, which is widely used in safety research and practice. The model explains how accidents can occur when multiple failures in a system align and the holes in each layer of defense line up, allowing a mistake or error to pass through and cause an accident. Another contribution was developing the concept of “latent conditions” in system design and identifying these conditions to improve safety. Latent conditions are often the root cause of accidents but are not always immediately apparent or visible.

In addition to his work on accident causation and system design, James Reason has also contributed to understanding human error. His work on “error chains” explains how seemingly minor errors can accumulate and lead to significant problems. This idea has been applied to various domains, including aviation, medicine, and nuclear power. He also introduced the “just culture” concept, which encourages organizations to balance accountability with the need for learning and improvement.

Finally, James Reason has made significant contributions to organizational management. He has written extensively on the importance of creating a safety culture within organizations and the role of leadership in achieving this goal. His work emphasizes the importance of communication, collaboration, and continuous learning in creating a safe and healthy work environment.

Some of James Reason’s most notable written works and lectures:

Written Works:

“Human Error” (1990)

“Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents” (1997)

“A Life in Error” (2013)

“The Human Contribution: Unsafe Acts, Accidents and Heroic Recoveries” (2008)

“Patient Safety: A Global Challenge” (2008)

“Error Management in Aviation” (2001)


“The Human Contribution to Aviation Safety” (2002)

“The Psychology of Human Error” (2010)

“A Life in Error: Lessons from the Trenches” (2013)

“Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents” (2015)

“The Human Contribution to Patient Safety” (2018)


James Reason’s work has significantly impacted safety, human factors, and organizational management. His contributions have helped to improve our understanding of how accidents occur and how to prevent them. His concepts and models are widely used in safety research and practice, and his ideas have influenced how organizations approach safety culture and management. James Reason’s work has positively impacted countless individuals’ lives, and his legacy continues to shape the field today.


Reason, J. (1990). Human error. Cambridge University Press.

Reason, J. (1997). Managing the risks of organizational accidents. Ashgate.

Reason, J. (2000). The contribution of latent human failures to the breakdown of complex systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 355(1702), 1343-1349.

Reason, J. (2008). The human contribution: Unsafe acts, accidents, and heroic recoveries. Ashgate.

Reason, J. (2016). A life in error: From little slips to big disasters. Ashgate.

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