Personal Accountability Supports an Organization’s Safety Culture

Stephanie Morrow
Safety Culture Program Manager

Personal accountability is one of the traits of a positive safety culture as outlined in the NRC’s Safety Culture Policy Statement. It’s defined as “all individuals take personal responsibility for safety.” But what does that really mean “in the real world” of the day-to-day operations of an NRC licensee?

I recently had an “aha moment” about the important role each employee plays in an organization when I accompanied a family member to the emergency room.

I could immediately see how there are many employees beyond the doctors and nurses who have a direct impact on the quality of patient care. These employees ranged from the person who wipes down the surfaces we come in contact with, to reduce the transfer of germs and bacteria; to the individuals who ensure paperwork is accurate and maintained in a secure and private system of records; to the patient advocate who ensures you understand the information you need to make informed decisions. There are also employees who ensure you are physically safe by monitoring the facility and ensuring that individuals who enter the hospital have an appropriate reason for being there. In a hospital, some of these employees are volunteers who recognize the important role their hospital plays in their community.

So the “aha” moment was that it’s not just one group—like the managers or front line employees—who support an organization’s safety culture. Instead, it’s the combined efforts of all people in the organization supporting the safety mission.

To apply this to the NRC environment, engineers at a nuclear power plant support the mission and contribute to a positive safety culture by ensuring design documentations are up-to-date. Administrative staff supports the mission by ensuring those documents are properly formatted and filed in the organization’s record management system. Janitorial contractors support the mission by ensuring that facilities are safe and clean. Radiation control professionals support their organization’s safety mission by following procedures to ensure that radiation and radioactive materials are used safely.

Whatever one’s role, he or she impacts the health, safety and underlying culture of the organization. Personal accountability means that every member of the organization takes ownership for their job and appreciates the role they play in supporting the organization’s overall safety mission. When employees demonstrate personal accountability, they are helping to shape and maintain a positive safety culture in their organization.

And a positive safety culture means a safer environment for all of us.

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

14 thoughts on “Personal Accountability Supports an Organization’s Safety Culture”

  1. Safety culture is something that should be more than just talked about. The NRC’s Safety Culture Policy Statement (link: states the Commission’s expectations that licensees maintain a positive safety culture. Safety culture is the responsibility of licensees because they must have ownership for their own culture. The NRC pays attention to potential indicators of a declining safety culture through its use of cross-cutting aspects in the Reactor Oversight Process (ROP), during follow-up inspections as a result of an allegation, or as a result of declines in performance which lead to elevated oversight in the ROP Action Matrix. It can be difficult for an organization to change its own culture, but not impossible. I encourage you to review the slides from the panel held on Tuesday, March 11th, at the NRC’s Regulatory Information Conference on “Safety Culture Journeys: Lessons Learned from Culture Change Efforts” to see how other organizations have been able to accomplish positive changes in their safety culture at Recordings of the session will be available on the RIC website in the near future.

    Stephanie Morrow

  2. Safety Culture Program Manager :Stephanie Morrow,
    Thank you again for sharing you’re a aha moment. Your post has been on my mind the last couple of days. I thought of it in the grocery store seeing a bright eyed child placed in the seat of a shopping cart full of discount cans of tuna. I thought of it again this morning after reading an article and seeing the pictures. ‘Chilled work environment’ found in Palisades Nuclear Plant’s security department, NRC says.
    Anyhow the pictures show an aging facility , and tell tale signs of neglect. Simple fixes such as the telephone accordion cords are stretched out, buildings weathered , storage yard not so tidy. Broken nuts and bolts etc.
    The NRC points out some simple fixes on a long to do list or what may become a would a could a should a list.
    TO THE
    JANUARY 30, 2014
    So what really has to happen in this “Safety Culture” of the NRC’s to effect these small fixes mention above. Could some of them happen sooner rather than latter ?It’s concerning when obviously simple fixes are put off again and again. Here in your aha moment are you suggesting how it should be done maybe in a like manner as this hospital ?. Maybe looking for volunteers to replace nuts bolts and telephone cords .Seriously what can be done? And please do clarify is “safety culture” something that should just be talked about. Or is there away about creating and implementing a plan of actions. Thank you.
    By the way it is really appreciated when any question are answered directly.

  3. Discrimination, in the context of the NRC’s Allegations program, refers specifically to discrimination against employees for engaging in protected activities as outlined under Section 211 of the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, as amended. Protected activities include raising safety concerns. Thus, it refers to discrimination against whistleblowers, not equal opportunity discrimination. More information can also be found in NRC regulations under employees protections (for example 10 CFR 30.7, 40.7, and 50.7, etc.).

    Stephanie Morrow

  4. The document links listed, reference the NRC Allegations program, are greatly appreciated. I have a question about discrimination mentioned in the 2012 report: ” This pre-investigation process provides an individual and his or her employer (or former employer) the opportunity to resolve an allegation of discrimination through mediation rather than fully litigate the discrimination allegation or have the NRC initiate an investigation.”

    The word “discrimination” is mentioned on several occasions. Exactly what type of discrimination are you referring to in the allegations program, as the word has multiple meanings in an administrative and legal proceeding? Are you referring to all discriminatory acts as it pertains to “whistleblowers” by an employer; or discrimination as it pertains to issues of equal opportunity, or as the case maybe, both?

  5. Mene Mene , the writtings all over the web, whislte blowers are treated very badly.The NR’s a little better than the AEC was in that we seem to have more than not that survive. So we have some progress.Give credit where credits due.

  6. I agree. The utilities who operate nuclear plants obviously don’t believe in safety or they wouldn’t fire whistleblowers, they would reward them. They fire them because fixing whistleblowers’ concerns costs money and lowers profit. Profit is more important to safety in all nuclear plants except those run by the U.S. Navy, where safety is the first, second, and third most important issue.

    Dr. John Miller
    formerly LT, USN

  7. I agree Mr. Conner.

    What is the value of a “safety culture” where deceit of leadership becomes a factor in reporting of safety issues? Or, where root cause analyst’s reports are changed by management so management may receive a bonus? How about where a peer review organization identifies serious issues and the NRC and the corporate nuclear operator keep the deficiencies from the public? In this instance, is the individual responsible for those safety culture failures; or is corporate leadership, regulator and government leadership responsible for corrupted organizational effectiveness relating to inappropriate, uncorrected behaviors of organizational leadership?

  8. No mention of leadership and how the leader interacts with the team (organizational, division, sectional, etc.) in facilitating safety goals, effective communications, training, problem identification and problem resolution.

    Leadership failures have been apparent at several nuclear facilities where there have been recurrent safety culture issues.

    Leaders must insure accountability at all levels, personal and organizational. The effectiveness of any organization depends on its leadership.

  9. If the NRC gave large tax-free awards to nuclear whistle blowers we might start to develop a real safety culture where employees were confident that their input was not only accepted but valued! As it is today, we have instead developed a nuclear CYA culture where the operating Utilities tend to make life miserable, or much, much worse, for anyone that does anything that might affect Corp. profits.

    I challenge the NRC to post both the number of completed and on-going whistle blower investigations along with their resolutions for the last two decades; that will “cut to the chase”. This info will hopefully serve as a directional signpost that points out where and just how far the NRC needs to go if they really want to pat themselves on the back for encouraging all workers to speak out freely as nuclear safety requires!

  10. Stephanie Morrow
    Safety Culture Program Manager :
    Your above post and “Safety Culture Program” PSY module might be appreciated by unique group of people with unique belief systems.
    It does not sit well with the general public. If you are attempting to provoke an uh-oh moment and fear then good job !
    Nuclear Safety should not be applied or even discussed as an artistic freedom.
    One might hope you’ll find some more applicable ah-ha moments to lessen the founded fears of the public.
    I positively think a surprise HOT ROOM Drill just a drill with a decontamination scrub down , quick radition death audio in the background would help you understand the publics fears as founded bring some family along for two ah-ha’s. Something you’ll always remember I do. At best your simplistic approach is offensivley condescending .
    Best wishes to your family member…….J.Agresta

  11. Dr. Morrow’s post is correct but I would like to expand on the dynamic relationship between culture and behavior.

    Organizational culture and behavior is a two-way street. When people act to support the mission their behavior is directed by policies, rules, orders, procedures and other formal guidance. But there is often room for discretion, especially in the decisions individuals or groups make, and this discretion is not applied randomly, it is guided by the dominant culture—the values, mental models, history and other artifacts of experience.

    Actions (both programmed and discretionary) not only reflect the culture, they shape it. If certain behavior is praised or rewarded, it is likely to be repeated and the implicit values underlying that behavior are reinforced. This is one mechanism by which underlying values are brought into congruence with an organization’s espoused values, e.g., the primacy of safety.

  12. This piece sounds like the writer just attended an NEI or ANS meeting on the subject a couple of decades ago.

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