Friday, March 23, 2012

Going Beyond SCART: A More Useful Guidebook for Evaluating Safety Culture

Our March 11 post reviewed the IAEA SCART guidelines.  We found its safety culture characteristics and attributes comprehensive but its “guiding questions” for evaluators were thin gruel, especially in the areas we consider critical for safety culture: decision making, corrective action, work backlogs and management incentives.

This post reviews another document that combines the SCART guidelines, other IAEA documents and the author’s insights to yield a much more robust guidebook for evaluating a facility’s safety culture.  It’s called “Guidelines for Regulatory Assessment of Safety Culture in Licensees’ Organisations.”*  It starts with the SCART characteristics and attributes but gives more guidance to an evaluator: recommendations for documents to review, what to look for during the evaluation, additional (and more critical) guiding questions, and warning signs that can indicate safety culture weaknesses or problems.

Specific guidance in the areas we consider critical is generally more complete.  For example, in the area of decision making, evaluators are told to look for a documented process applicable to all matters that affect safety, attend meetings to observe the decision-making process, note the formalization of the decision making process and how/if long-term consequences of decisions are considered.  Goal conflict is explicitly addressed, including how differing opinions, conflict based on different experiences, and questioning attitudes are dealt with, and the evidence of fair and impartial methods to resolve conflicts.  Interestingly, example conflicts are not limited to the usual safety vs. cost or production but include safety vs. safety, e.g., a proposed change that would increase plant safety but cause additional personnel rad exposure to implement.  Evidence of unresolved conflicts is a definite warning flag for the evaluator. 

Corrective action (CA) also gets more attention, with questions and flags covering CA prioritization based on safety significance, the timely implementation of fixes, lack of CA after procedure violations or regulatory findings, verification that fixes are implemented and effective, and overall support or lack thereof for the CAP. 

Additional questions and flags cover backlogs in maintenance, corrective actions, procedure changes, unanalyzed physical or procedural problems, and training.

However, the treatment of management incentives is still weak, basically the same as the SCART guidelines.  We recommend a more detailed evaluation of the senior managers’ compensation scheme or, in more direct language, how much do they get paid for production, and how much for safety?

The intended audience for this document is a regulator charged with assessing a licensee’s safety culture.  As we have previously discussed, some regulatory agencies are evaluating this approach.  For now, that’s a no-go in the U.S.  In any case, these guidelines provide a good checklist for self-assessors, internal auditors and external consultants.

*  M. Tronea, “Guidelines for Regulatory Oversight of Safety Culture in Licensees’ Organisations” Draft, rev. 8 (Bucharest, Romania:  National Commission for Nuclear Activities Control [CNCAN], April 2011).  In addition to being on the staff of CNCAN, the nuclear regulatory authority of Romania, Dr. Tronea is the founder/manager of the LinkedIn Nuclear Safety group.  

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