A Note on Definitions
The committee recognizes that terminology used by parallel disciplines can have slightly different meanings and interpretations. This can make it difficult to conduct a cross-disciplinary dialogue, because a sentence may be interpreted one way when the speaker means something subtly, yet distinctly, different.
We ask that participants be aware of and sensitive to this challenge. When speaking, recognize that the audience may not be familiar with your area of expertise, and when possible, introduce your point by discussing it in the context of your field and experience. Similarly, when listening, pay special attention to terminology and the context in which words are used. If the usage of a word differs from what you expect, even slightly, please feel free to ask for clarification; such clarifications often lead to greater insight for everyone.
An obvious example of terminology that can cause confusion is the phrase accident precursors, or even the word precursors. In our discussions with committee members, panelists, and participants, we found that there are many different interpretations of these terms. Some people define accident precursors as the events that immediately precede and lead up to an accident; others include organizational and cultural shifts in the definition; and some also include macro-events outside an organization in the definition.
In the proposal for this project, we defined precursors as events in the accident chain. We found that this narrow definition aided our discussions; for instance, we could discuss how an organization could look for precursors without the organization itself being considered a potential precursor. For this workshop, we encourage you to use this definition and to explain alternative usages when necessary.
Near miss and its analogs, near hit and close call, are other terms that are likely to arise frequently during workshop discussions. Although near misses are clearly related to precursors, we have tried to distinguish them from precursors, and we encourage you not to use them interchangeably. One way to define a near miss (or, equivalently, a near hit or close call) is as an almost complete progression of events—a progression that, if one other event had occurred, would have resulted in an accident. A near miss might consist of one or more precursors that did occur, and one that did not. A near miss can be considered a particularly severe precursor. Understanding the subtle distinction between a near miss and a precursor can facilitate workshop discussions.
In the papers in the agenda book, Michal Tamuz and Bill Corcoran address some of the challenges to defining and understanding precursors. The paper by Petrie, “Do You See What?: The Epistemology of Interdisciplinary Inquiry,” included in the back of the agenda book, suggests other ways to facilitate interdisciplinary discussions.