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.

How a Questioning Attitude Encourages Safety

Maria E. Schwartz
Office of Enforcement Senior Project Manager

questionnewAre we there yet? Why is the sky blue? Why is rain wet? Children have an endless list of questions as they discover the world around them. But as we grow older, most people tend to ask fewer questions.

This may be due, at least in part, to the fact that we start to make assumptions about many of the things around us based on what we have already learned or observed. Sometimes we ask fewer questions because at some point, someone made us feel ashamed that we didn’t know the answer or made it clear they had more important things to do than respond to our questions.

Re-developing that questioning attitude we embraced as children, however, is very important to an organization’s health and critical to its safety culture.

The NRC’s Safety Culture Policy Statement includes “Questioning Attitude” as a trait of a positive safety culture. The policy statement describes it as a part of a culture where “individuals avoid complacency and continuously challenge existing conditions and activities in order to identify discrepancies that might result in error or inappropriate action.”

A questioning attitude helps to prevent “group think” by encouraging diversity of thought and intellectual curiosity. It challenges the entire organization to get clarification when something comes up that doesn’t seem right.

Examples include situations as simple as walking by a broken door day after day without stopping and questioning why it remains broken; or skipping over a confusing step in a procedure you use every day rather than getting clarification. It could include ignoring an alarm because nuisance alarms go off all the time and they never indicate an actual emergency. Or it could be something a little more complicated such as not speaking up to question a calculation that doesn’t seem right because the senior engineer performed the calculation.

A positive safety culture requires the collective commitment by both leaders and individual employees to emphasize safety over competing goals. A questioning attitude supports that commitment.

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