Systemic Factors in Organisational Failures: A Review of some recent high-profile cases

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David H. Slater Ben Ale


This paper explores the various options for organisational structures by examining some high-profile incidents in the light of a number of theories that have been put forward to explain behaviours.

On first inspection, it might be concluded that a common theme emerging from studying the results of such organisational behaviours might be the slavish conformance to “acceptable” or expected “institutionalised” structures which stipulate impenetrable layers of middle management between the “sharp end” teams and the responsible executives and their governing Boards. This so called “clay layer” has been highlighted as a major factor in high profile incidents such as Challenger, Columbia, Chernobyl, Longford, Macondo blow out and many others .

However, on closer examination, there are other examples of corporate failures, (such as the Post Office computerisation scandal) which suggest that the “clay layer” in fact serves another purpose; to allow credible “deniability” for the controlling minds in difficult areas. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974  maintains that the” person who was the 'controlling mind' of the organisation is personally responsible for the offence. This paper sets out to scrutinise whether these are borne out in practice. and urges that the design and application of organisational structures should be tailored to effective and ethical operation.

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SLATER, David H.; ALE, Ben. Systemic Factors in Organisational Failures: A Review of some recent high-profile cases. Medical Research Archives, [S.l.], v. 10, n. 12, dec. 2022. ISSN 2375-1924. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 29 jan. 2023. doi:
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