Friday, April 9, 2010

“Safety is Job One” at Massey


Non-fatal days lost (NFDL) rates are the benchmark used by the coal industry to measure safety. And the industry average is 3.31. (Imagine the NRC's ROP including an indicator like NFDL.) Violations (cited by the Mine Safety and Health Administration) are also an indicator for mine safety. But according to Massey CEO Blankenship, “Violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process.”* And “We don’t pay much attention to the violation count.”**

Massey’s commitment to safety came under scrutiny back in 2005 after Mr. Blankenship sent a memorandum to his deep mine superintendents stating:



What do you think was the takeaway by the organization as a result of the two memos?

Massey is an easy target at the moment and we are not using these quotes to pile onto the outrage associated with the recent mine explosion. What is obvious is that the avowals by Massey that “Safety is Job One” are meaningless in the face of the actual behavior of the corporation. This was the point in our March 12, 2010 post re BP and their refinery safety issues. A very real problem is that virtually everyone engaged in complex and risky industrial activities makes the same safety pronouncements whether or not they live by them. Thus, the pronouncements are robbed of any real significance or value - not just to those who disregard them, but to all. It sounds a lot like stuff that politicians say and which no one believes, because they all say it and none of them means it.

So our takeaway is a caution to nuclear organizations not to reflexively broadcast and re-emphasize their commitment to safety as a response or correction to an identified safety culture problem. Or at least any such emphasis needs to be in a context coupled to specific actions that actually sustain and reflect that commitment. As we comment regularly in this blog, we view safety culture as a dynamic system and one aspect of that system is the interplay of management reinforcement and organizational trust. Reinforcement of safety priority tends to be the focus of a lot of communications and training, reasserting values and beliefs, etc. while trust tends to be determined by people’s perceptions of actual decisions and actions. When reinforcement and actions are congruent, trust is elevated. When management says one thing but acts in ways that are inconsistent, or appear inconsistent, trust evaporates and the attempt at reinforcement may make things worse.


* “Deaths at West Virginia Mine Raise Issues About Safety,” NY Times (April 6, 2010).
** “Massey’s Long History of Coal Mine Violations," The Energy Source blog
at forbes.com (April 6, 2010).

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