Safety First: Researching Accidents

Peter MadsenExplosions, accidents, and disasters—surprisingly, that’s what motivated Peter Madsen to pursue a degree in management.

As a chemical engineering undergraduate at BYU, Madsen found he was more interested in the booms and blasts that happened in engineering companies than in having a career in the industry.

“I realized that the decisions affecting employee safety were made by managers and not by engineers,” explains Madsen, now a professor of organizational behavior and human resources at the Marriott School. “So I decided to study management which led me to where I am.”

Madsen finished his bachelor’s degree at BYU before heading to the University of California, Berkeley, earning a PhD in organizational behavior and industrial relations in 2006. He joined the BYU faculty that same year.

With safety on his mind, Madsen has done extensive research on organizational learning—how groups learn from failure or accidents and what they can do to prevent future mishaps.

After the BP oil spill in 2010, Madsen was contacted by a large offshore drilling company to discuss their safety procedures. He has also studied safety issues in the automobile, healthcare, mining, and chemical industries. Madsen is currently researching airline safety, although his work can be applied to any field—something his former pupils know.

“One student contacted me and told me that what he learned in my class launched him into an organization where he landed a job,” Madsen says.

While Madsen’s safety-first attitude has benefited him on the job, he doesn’t let it stop him from having fun when after hours. He is an avid hiker who takes advantage of Provo’s beautiful trails with his wife, Kathryn, and their five children.