Besides certain situations that are usually referred to as the ‘Acts of God’, any complications faced in nuclear power plants sometimes comes from human error. However the role of the human mind is very active in perceiving and removing possible problems, and this has a key positive impact on safety. Because of this, people who work in the nuclear industry carry heavy responsibilities. Beyond adherence to defined procedures, they must act in accordance with a ‘Safety Culture’. Organisations operating nuclear plants, and all others with a safety responsibility, must develop a Safety Culture to prevent human error and to benefit from the positive aspects of human action
The nuclear safety culture concept was first introduced after the Chernobyl accident and more emphasis was given to it after the accident at Fukushima Daiichi. In hindsight, all accidents are judged to have been avoidable. The fact that nuclear safety culture is given increased attention after accidents happen shows a reactive approach. Safety culture is an aspect of the defence-in-depth strategy and it also plays a critical role in preventing nuclear accidents.
Defence-in-depth comprise thoughtful compliance with existing regulatory requirements and the internal imposition of additional requirements when regulations are insufficient for safety. This is something that we need to internalize in order to have a proactive approach in giving first priority to nuclear safety over competing demands of other nature.
To better understand safety culture, it is important to have insight on what culture is. Culture can be defined as a way of life of a group of people; the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next. It also includes the way people have learned to look at their environment and themselves, and their unstated assumptions about the way the world is and the way people should act.
According to the IAEA, “Safety Culture is that assembly of characteristics and attitudes in organisations and individuals which establishes that, as an overriding priority, nuclear plant safety issues receive the attention warranted by their significance”. This simply means that when it comes to cost, construction deadlines and many others, safety comes first. Every organisation has its own unique safety culture. Their values influences how members deal with safety and also reinforce safety of the organisation. In an organisation, the strength of its safety culture is determined by how safety is perceived, valued and prioritised.
Assessing and understanding an organisation’s safety culture can lead to understanding how safety performance can be supported and sustained, and also to identify vulnerabilities that can lead to a decline in performance and be a cause of failure.
The general features of safety culture as stated by the IAEA includes; Individual awareness of the importance of safety; Commitment, requiring demonstration at senior management level of the high priority of safety and adoption by individuals of the common goal of safety; Motivation, through leadership, the setting of objectives and systems of rewards and sanctions, and through individuals’ self-generated attitudes; Supervision, including audit and review practices, with readiness to respond to individuals’ questioning attitudes; Responsibility, through formal assignment and description of duties and their understanding by individuals.
In our next articles, we will talk about the specific traits of a positive nuclear safety culture by the USNRC.
SOURCE: IAEA, USNRC
Writer: Yvonne Sefakor Dzovor
Editor: Priscilla Oforiwaa
Designers: Zhang Jing & Zhang Chao
Translation : Zhang Chao