Safety culture assessments

Safety culture is about the core values, beliefs and behaviours that an organisation holds and how they affect safety. See holistic safety for further information on the concept of safety culture.

While our licence holders have the primary responsibility for the safety of their operations, they operate in a broad network of stakeholders, including ARPANSA, that directly and indirectly influence their operations. Our safety culture affects the safety and wellbeing of staff and how we conduct our regulatory business, the values we convey and the relationships we develop.

Having an objective understanding of our safety culture is important and the process of understanding safety culture is challenging and sometimes confronting. It can sweep away perceptions that ‘all is well’ or highlight some issues that were known only to some workgroups.

An assessment should bring together people to discuss matters that impact safety, and this can lead to significant improvements following the assessment.

The assessment of organisational culture is seen as best practice and the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has embedded the requirement to undertake safety culture assessments into its standards. Requirement 14 of IAEA General Safety Requirements Part 2 states that ‘senior management shall regularly commission assessments of leadership for safety and of safety culture in its own organisation’.

Safety culture assessment at ARPANSA

There are a number of methods available to assess safety culture. ARPANSA has developed a custom safety culture maturity model and used it to conduct a study of the safety culture of its regulatory services branch. The model draws on the Nuclear Energy Agency's The Safety Culture of an Effective Nuclear Regulatory Body and involves the collection of data through surveys, focus groups, interviews, workplace observations and document reviews. Maturity is assessed for five elements:

  • Leadership for safety
  • Individual responsibility and accountability
  • Safety oversight and systemic approach
  • Collaboration and open communication
  • Continuous improvement and self-assessment

For each element, the results are reported on a five point scale from pathological to holistic.

Safety culture chart showing attitudes towards safety

Regulatory services assessment 2019

Between January and March 2019, ARPANSA conducted a safety culture assessment of its regulatory functions and then developed an action plan based on the outcomes. The assessment was undertaken by a small team with external support from SafetyWorks. The results showed an overall positive safety culture ranging in maturity from ‘individual commitment’ to ‘cooperative’ levels.  The process was a valuable exercise for ARPANSA, with staff feedback indicating that the initiative brought people together and improved appreciation and understanding of safety. Further assessment will be undertaken to understand the safety culture of other areas of ARPANSA.

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PDF icon Safety culture action plan

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