Resilience Engineering: A New Paradigm for Safety in Lean Construction Systems

D. Schaefer1, T.S. Abdelhamid2, P. Mitropoulos3 & G.A. Howell4

1PhD Candidate, 401H Human Ecology, Construction Management Program, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1323. E:
2Associate Professor, 116 Human Ecology, Construction Management Program, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1323. E:
3Assistant Professor, Del E. Webb School of Construction, P.O. Box 870204, Tempe, AZ 85287. 480/965-3378. Arizona State University. E:
4Executive Director, Lean Construction Institute, Lean Construction Institute 625 Main Street, 1B, Louisville, CO 80027-1827 303-665-8385. E:


Achieving reliable workflow between construction operations is paramount to the success of Lean Construction implementations. In Lean Construction, as in lean production, workflow of operations is affected by waste (muda), variability (mura), and overburden to workers and machines (muri). It follows then that reliable workflow in construction operations cannot be achieved without safe work practices, which is the concern of this paper. The work of Jens Rasmussen was used previously as a foundation to propose a new cause and effect model for the way construction accidents originate and propagate to injury. The model provided a conceptual framework to help workers better detect where hazards may be released, better cope near the boundary beyond which work is no longer safe, recover if control is lost, and finally to minimize the effects if loss of control is irreversible. This paper presents a paradigm that investigates the ability of actors within an organization to anticipate and adapt before and after risk situations give rise to loss of control. The paradigm is dubbed “Resilience Engineering” in an attempt to signify that the ability to respond and adapt to unexpected changes can be engineered into organizational settings similar to how certain materials are engineered to be resilient – to recover to their original shape after being stressed. According to the pioneers of this field, a resilient organization is one that has mastered the art of managing and coping with unexpected events and following disruptive consequences. An underlying principle in Resilience Engineering is that understanding failure in order to prevent its reoccurrence is more profound when we understand how safety is created by people in workplaces with continually changing hazard sources and inevitable compromises between safe and productive actions. In this paper, the origins of Resilience Engineering are reviewed, focusing on what it is and what it isn’t. The paper concludes with propositions for implementing Resilience Engineering in construction settings and offers pointers to future research.


lean construction, safety theory, occupational safety, construction safety, construction accidents, resilience engineering



Schaefer, D. , Abdelhamid, T. , Mitropoulos, P. & Howell, G. 2008, 'Resilience Engineering: A New Paradigm for Safety in Lean Construction Systems' In:, Tzortzopoulos, P. & Kagioglou, M., 16th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction. Manchester, UK, 16-18 Jul 2008. pp 723-734

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