Office for Nuclear Regulation

Enhanced assessment of safety culture

6 June, 2022

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has been working with academia to enhance the assessment of dutyholders’ safety culture.

ONR has worked with the Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS) to enhance the competence of our inspectors when undertaking assessments of dutyholders’ safety culture.

As an organisation ONR is committed to engaging with a wide range of academic institutions, providing us with independent advice, evidence and expertise to help us make our regulatory decisions.

Working with AMBS allowed ONR to develop its Examining Culture in Organisations: Guidance on Using Qualitative Methods in Organisational Research which inspectors have been using to assist them in assessing the safety culture of dutyholders.

Nick Shaw, ONR’s Principal Nuclear Safety Inspector and author of the safety culture guidance, said: “The project with AMBS to enhance inspector competence in undertaking safety culture assessment began several years ago and is a great example of the benefits which can be gained from working with academia.

“Effectively assessing and influencing improvements to the safety culture of dutyholders is vital to ensure safe operations at nuclear sites and this guidance has greatly assisted our specialist inspectors.”

The training provided by AMBS and ONR’s new guidance has been used to influence dutyholder safety culture improvements at nuclear sites across the UK.

It has aided our inspectors’ assessments of culture, culture change and diagnosing organisational issues affecting safety.

Nick added: “Feedback that we’ve received from dutyholders about safety culture assessments since we’ve been using the new guidance has been really positive.

“They’ve told us that they have found the findings from our assessment reports to be insightful and helpful in improving their own safety culture. The assessments also help to inform our regulatory decisions and inspection plans.”

ONR has a series of dutyholder safety culture assessments planned throughout 2022 and the guidance has put the organisation in an excellent position to deliver this.

Sharon Clarke, Professor of Organisational Psychology at AMBS, said: “The team at AMBS are so pleased to see that the training we designed and delivered for ONR inspectors has acted as a springboard for the development of culture assessment guidance and is now having an impact in the industry. It is an excellent example of the AMBS ethos: ‘Original Thinking Applied’ in action.”

ONR has also worked with academia to develop guidance on safety leadership for our inspectors which was published earlier this year.

The safety leadership guidance was produced with the support of Professor Kevin Kelloway of St Mary’s University in Canada and Dr Jennifer Wong of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

They developed the SAFER Leadership Model upon which ONR’s guidance is now based.

ONR’s first inspections using the safety leadership guidance will take place later this year.

Nick said: “We’ve found that engaging with academia to supplement existing relevant good practice has been hugely valuable in developing our capabilities to assess leadership and culture.

“In the future we look forward to more partnership working with academia to further enhance our regulatory decision making.”