I was reading an incident report on the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) website the other day, where it was the conclusion of the reviewing team that the incident (which sadly resulted in a loss of life) was the direct result of a poor safety culture across the organization. If you consider the term “culture” it actually refers to a set of beliefs, values, and norms that a company adopts in relation to its day-to-day business transactions. Culture should be endemic in an organization and should exist at all levels, starting at the top.
For the hazardous process industries, it is imperative that a company has the right “culture” in terms of its values, beliefs, and norms in relation to the safe running of its plants. For Functional Safety this has to start at the very top of the organization, in regards to how it approaches the safe running of its plants (i.e. training, preventive maintenance, conducting regular independent third party audits, testing, etc.). Any company, no matter what the industry, has a moral and legal obligation to ensure its employees’ safety on a daily basis. So how can a company be criticized publicly for having a poor safety culture when it comes to its employees?
The CSB report I was reading went on to say that a “check book” mentality had been preferred over ensuring the plant was safe. Company executives ignored plant personnel concerns over short-cuts being taken in maintenance, and spending cuts on manpower that resulted in personnel working long hours with little or no rest between shifts. Essential training was being ignored and/or overlooked, which had also contributed to the unfortunate incident that occurred, according to the report. The report went on to state that maintenance reports were being filled out without actually undertaking the maintenance, just to save money.
Over the past decade or so it’s become common for companies to be finance driven to cut costs and improve efficiency. Whereas this is not necessarily a bad thing to do, it cannot be done to the detriment of safety, especially in hazardous process plants such as refineries, oil & gas installations, pipelines, etc. Oftentimes, it’s not just the companies’ employees at risk but the general public as well.
Therefore, it’s important that companies in the process industries adopt a safety culture that puts the safety of the plant, personnel, and public ahead of just cutting costs. Operating efficiently is one thing, but operating dangerously is entirely different. Culture is all about sending the right message to your employees and to your stakeholders, whether that is your investors or the local community or the public at large.
So culture does affect safety and always starts at the top of any organization.