Thursday, July 30, 2009

“Reliability is a Dynamic Non-Event” (MIT #5)

What is this all about?  Reliability is a dynamic non-event [MIT paper pg 5].  It is about complacency.  Paradoxically, when incident rates are low for an extended period of time and if management does not maintain a high priority on safety, the organization may slip into complacency as individuals shift their attention to other priorities such as production pressures.  The MIT authors note the parallel to the NASA space program where incidents were rare notwithstanding a weak safety culture, resulting in the organization rationalizing its performance as “normal”.  (See Dianne Vaughan’s book The Challenger Launch Decision for a compelling account of NASA’s organizational dynamics.)  In our paper “Practicing Nuclear Safety Management” we make a similar comparison.

What does this imply about the nuclear industry?  Certainly we are in a period where the reliability of the plants is at a very high level and the NRC ROP indicator board is very green.  Is this positive for maintaining high safety culture levels or does it represent a potential threat?  It could be the latter since the biggest problem in addressing the safety implications of complacency in an organization is, well, complacency.

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