A good safety culture is necessary in order to ensure that technical installations are safe. There is widespread agreement on this point across all specialist disciplines and sectors. ENSI, the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate, also gives consideration to safety culture in its supervisory work. In a new report on supervisory practice covering various issues, ENSI defines exactly what the supervision of safety culture comprises.
Good technical design on its own is not sufficient to ensure that a nuclear plant is safe. Ralph Schulz, Director of ENSI’s Safety Analyses Division, emphasises: “There is also a need for a good safety culture among the people who operate the plant”.
- values and ideologies that are shared by members of a nuclear plant operator’s organisation
- verbal and nonverbal behaviour
- features of the man-made physical environment.
Safety culture includes those values, ideologies, behaviours and environmental features that determine or demonstrate how the members of the organisation approach and deal with nuclear safety.
The factors that go to make up a good safety culture depend on the organisation in question, and also on aspects of the local and national culture. This makes it impossible to set conclusive across-the-board requirements for an organisation’s safety culture: there is no such thing as one single safety culture that is “right”. Nevertheless, key features of a good safety culture can be derived from international standards and from safety research:
- there can be no doubt that safety is a recognised value
- the management unequivocally backs safety
- everyone knows his or her responsibility for safety
- all activities are fundamentally geared to safety
- safety is developed through ongoing learning
Responsibility for safety culture lies with the operator
The operator of a nuclear plant is responsible for its safety at all times – a point that is clearly stated by the Swiss Federal Nuclear Energy Act (NEA). “This means that the operator is also responsible for the safety culture”, Ralph Schulz stresses. However, the supervisory authority does influence the operators’ safety culture through its supervisory practice.
In addition to the supervisory authority, there are other external factors that shape the safety culture in a nuclear plant. These include, for example:
- manufacturers and suppliers
- research institutes
- political/policy-making bodies
“Sentiment in the country or attitudes towards a plant, along with a series of other external influences, ultimately impact the safety culture of a nuclear plant operator as well”, Ralph Schulz notes. “ENSI’s objective is to exert a favourable influence on operators’ safety culture through its supervisory activities”.
ENSI’s approach to the supervision of safety culture
It is not possible to supervise all the content of safety culture in the same way: this is because of the varying extent to which such content can be observed or because, in some cases, members of the organisation are not even aware of it. Useful indications are provided by aspects such as the condition of the equipment in a nuclear plant (which can be observed during inspections) and the quality of the documentation that is submitted to ENSI.
These aspects can be observed directly and assessed on the basis of requirements specified in the regulatory documentation. Other aspects cannot be evaluated clearly, either because there are no definite requirements for them or because it is impossible to measure them accurately. Aspects that cannot be assessed are dealt with in specific supervisory and specialist/technical discussions.
Self-reflection focusing on values and ideologies
ENSI also addresses values and ideologies of which the members of the operating organisation are not aware, so access to them is generally difficult. Such aspects cannot be measured or assessed, so they are not covered by conventional supervisory methods (such as inspections). In these areas, ENSI makes use of specialist discussions at regular intervals aimed specifically at encouraging dialogue about safety culture; the objective here is to prompt operators to reflect on the hidden aspects of their safety culture.