The Power and Pitfalls of Language in Accident Investigation

Communication plays a powerful role in creating safety in all work environments. Effective language can lead to individual and organizational learning during pre-mission briefings, real-time activities, and post-mission analysis. However, the meaning of language is not constant - it changes based on the experience of the person, the context of the event, and the social construction of the communicators.

The language we use in accident investigations can impact how we make sense of events and whether we learn from them. Many factors can influence the review team during the collection of information and the writing of the report, such as our need for certainty in our lives, our inclination to assign agency, and our inherent biases. Accident reports often contain language that influences readers to make judgments that lead to simplistic blame, scapegoating, or even moral condemnation. Indeed, 'facts' are nothing without context, yet investigation language often closes the door to this rich world of information through its agentive descriptions, causal attributions, and use of taxonomies that place actions and decisions into pre-determined 'boxes'.

This presentation will help you become sensitive to the power and pitfalls of language in areas of your life that go far beyond accident investigation!

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