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Exploring 30 Years of Safety Culture: IAEA Hosts International Conference on Human and Organizational Aspects of Assuring Nuclear Safety

A variety of watershed events over the years have influenced safety culture in high reliability organizations — nuclear in particular. Many fundamental problems involving factors such as technology, procedures, training and attitudes towards safety have contributed to these events.

In 1986, the Chernobyl accident highlighted the importance of maintaining design configuration, plant status control, line authority for reactor safety, and cultural attributes related to safety. The subsequent International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group investigation of the accident led to the birth of a new concept — namely “safety culture”. In 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi accident reminded us of the paramount impacts that the confluence of human, technological and organizational interactions can have on nuclear safety.

“What we’re seeing is that safety culture is a direct reflection of the organization’s culture and people’s attitudes who work in it. We know that strong organizations with strong safety cultures benefit everyone: workers, supervisors, senior managers — including the organization itself,” said Juan Carlos Lentijo, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security at the IAEA.

Organized at the IAEA headquarters, the International Conference on Human and Organizational Aspects of Assuring Nuclear Safety will explore 30 years of safety culture, progress achieved and identify additional measures to improve and enhance safety culture in the nuclear sector.

Over 350 participants from IAEA Member States and international organizations are expected at the week-long event commencing on Monday 22 February. A number of important safety-related issues, guidelines and how to systematically integrate and strengthen safety culture at all levels will be discussed.

Participants are invited to take a step back and reflect on what the nuclear community has learned about safety culture over the last 30 years and will also take a look forward to the more recent lessons learned.  In particular, they will review the developments since the last safety culture conference held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2002.

The conference will also discuss the roles and responsibilities of the various stakeholders within the nuclear community, including government bodies, regulatory bodies, nuclear facility owners, licensees, technical support organizations, vendors and research institutes. Safety issues at all phases of nuclear operations from the launching to the phasing out of nuclear power programmes will also be addressed.

Attitudes and approaches matter

Strong safety culture requires a common vision and effort from everyone in an organization, where the management’s safety commitment is one of the most important factors determining safety performance. The behaviour of leaders in an organization — that is, what they say and do — has a tremendous impact on whether workers place a high value on safety, or not.

Managers at all levels, who do not put production and cost before safety, who challenge unsafe practices, who promote questioning attitudes and who foster open communication among individuals and teams have some of the highest levels of employee involvement and commitment for safety.

“Transparent communication is key! What we mean by this simply is that executives and managers open the door. They allow and encourage their staff to talk, to ask questions,” Lentijo said. Transparency in safety culture also acknowledges that the public has the right to question and that decision-makers have the responsibility to address their concerns and take on board useful suggestions.

“The human and organizational capabilities for assuring safety have been developed over many years and have progressed thanks to the lessons learned especially from events and accidents,” Lentijo explained.

The IAEA has developed a structured support service for organizations in Member States to help them establish a continuous improvement process for safety culture.

In this context, one of the conference’s sessions is devoted to the introduction of new ideas and state-of-the art research to enhance safety culture across all levels in an organization.

In addition, through the interactive ‘Dialogue Sessions’, participants will have an opportunity to  meet with conference speakers and subject matter experts to exchange perspectives, practices and ideas on safety culture and safety performance improvements.

The programme of the forthcoming conference can be accessed here:http://www-pub.iaea.org/iaeameetings/50800/International-Conference-on-Human-and-Organizational-Aspects-of-Assuring-Nuclear-Safety-Exploring-30-Years-of-Safety-Culture.

Last update: 26 July 2017