Learning from incidents and incident reporting: Safety Governance at a Belgian Nuclear Research Center

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This article examines how incidents are governed in a Belgian Nuclear Research Center by way of an incident reporting system (IRS) named Retour d’Experiences (REX). Drawing on a documentary analysis of incident reports, interviews, and focus groups with personnel, it illustrates how REX enacts a safety governmentality centered on identifying incident causes and culprits. As this governmentality mode obscures the epistemic and political character of incidents, it closes down important opportunities for collective learning about safety and safety governance. It is argued that joint reflection about incidents and resistances toward incident reporting serve as fruitful starting points for a more reflexive safety governance that makes explicit how decisions are made in high-risk contexts. Social scientists can enhance governance of this kind by pointing to different perceptions and evaluations of incidents and by insisting that contending interpretations are confronted and accounted for.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)679-702
Number of pages34
JournalScience, Technology, & Human Values
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 29 Dec 2016


  • accidents, nuclear, incidents, learning, reporting, safety

ID: 5656051