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Safety First: IAEA Promotes a Robust Safety Culture

IAEA conducted a Senior Management Workshop on Safety Culture for TEPCO officials in Japan.

A paramount concern for nuclear facilities and organizations dealing with nuclear materials is sustaining and strengthening security and safety. Member States seek technical guidance from the IAEA to enhance these organizations' "safety culture".

The latest request for support in this field was submitted by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which introduced a Nuclear Safety Reform Plan following the Fukushima Daiichi accident. In response to this request, the IAEA conducted a Senior Management Workshop on Safety Culture from 11 to 13 October 2013 in Japan.

The workshop's programme focused on the importance of working systematically and effectively to continuously improve safety culture at a nuclear power producer. The broad areas relating to safety culture, self-assessment methodology and the actions required to strengthen safety culture from corporate headquarters to nuclear power plants were covered during the workshop.

The IAEA develops Safety Standards and provides detailed guidance to promote a strong safety culture among its Member States. The Agency defines safety culture as the "assembly of characteristics and attitudes in organizations and individuals which establishes that, as an overriding priority, protection and safety issues receive attention warranted by their significance." Within this overall criterion, the five core characteristics for an international framework for a strong safety culture developed by the IAEA are that: safety is clearly a recognized value; leadership for safety is clear; accountability for safety is clear; safety is integrated into all activities; and safety is learning-driven.

It can take many years to instil a robust safety culture in an organization, and after emergencies or severe events, the situation needs to be analysed and areas for improvement acted upon. Without a resilient safety culture, says Monica Haage, an IAEA Safety Officer and an expert in safety culture, "safety margins erode, less safe working conditions are tolerated, risks are ignored or indifference becomes the norm, and a mindset of complacency might develop within the organization." These symptoms need to be identified at an early stage and swiftly addressed to determine and prevent the cause of a weakening safety culture.

The IAEA provides independent safety culture assessments, training courses on safety culture self-assessment, and tailor-made support for Member States. Haage notes that safety culture is often seen as an intangible concept that is difficult to understand, and therefore, to effectively improve. The IAEA has developed practical guidance and training programmes to support Member States in enhancing safety culture in their countries.

Last update: 27 July 2017