In September, 2011 the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and the International Atomic Energy (IAEA) held a workshop for regulators and industry on oversight of licensee management. “The principal aim of the workshop was to share experience and learning about the methods and approaches used by regulators to maintain oversight of, and influence, nuclear licensee leadership and management for safety, including safety culture.”*
However, we were very impressed by Prof. Richard Taylor’s keynote address. He is from the University of Bristol and has studied organizational and cultural factors in disasters and near-misses in both nuclear and non-nuclear contexts. His list of common contributors includes issues with leadership, attitudes, environmental factors, competence, risk assessment, oversight, organizational learning and regulation. He expounded on each factor with examples and additional detail.
We found his conclusion most encouraging: “Given the common precursors, we need to deepen our understanding of the complexity and interconnectedness of the socio-political systems at the root of organisational accidents.” He suggests using system dynamics modeling to study archetypes including “maintaining visible convincing leadership commitment in the presence of commercial pressures.” This is totally congruent with the approach we have been advocating for examining the effects of competing business and safety pressures on management.
Unfortunately, this was the intellectual high point of the proceedings. Topics that we believe are important to assessing and understanding SC got short shrift thereafter. In particular, goal conflict, CAP and management compensation were not mentioned by any of the other presenters.
Decision-making was mentioned by a few presenters but there was no substantive discussion of this topic (the U.K. presenter had a motherhood statement that “Decisions at all levels that affect safety should be rational, objective, transparent and prudent”; the Barnes/Kove presentation appeared to focus on operational decision making). A bright spot was in the meeting summary where better insight into licensees’ decision making process was mentioned as desirable and necessary by regulators. And one suggestion for future research was “decision making in the face of competing goals.” Perhaps there is hope after all.
(If this post seems familiar, last Dec 5 we reported on a Feb 2011 IAEA conference for regulators and industry that covered some of the same ground. Seven months later the bureaucrats had inched the football a bit down the field.)
* Proceedings of an NEA/IAEA Workshop, Chester, U.K. 26-28 Sept 2011, “Oversight and Influencing of Licensee Leadership and Management for Safety, Including Safety Culture – Regulatory Approaches and Methods,” NEA/CSNI/R(2012)13 (June 2012).