How organisational behaviours and Human Factors can positively impact contractors to nuclear power plants



Success is not achieved by luck alone; the organisation and its contractors should identify and shape behaviours so people can only do the right thing, first time, every time.

Lead paragraph/major conclusions


It can be determined from the two primary case studies that:

  • Identification of and clear descriptions of desired behaviours at the start leads to increased likelihood of success
  • Active ownership of the intervention programme effectively accelerates the implementation of modified behaviours (individual and organisational)
  • Sustainability of modified behaviours is dependent on continued focus on the intervention programme
  • Active and positive reinforcement by leaders and influencers is crucial to success, short term and long term
  • Various well known nuclear organisations have created the guidelines explaining what should be done but none show how organisational behaviours can be modified.
  • Having a demonstrable robust Safety Culture is a positive differentiator for contractors in the civil nuclear commercial environment.



Organisational behaviours have a significant impact on individual and group behaviours but are frequently ignored during the design, planning and scheduling of work or when conducting an investigation of events.  Why should it matter?  It is important to calculate the personal and organisational impact and cost of those elements which contribute to organisational safety.

“No matter how well work is organized, how good procedures are, how well equipment is designed, how good the teamwork, people will never perform better than what the organization will allow.” Maurino, Reason, Johnston, & Lee. Beyond Aviation Human Factors. 1995

We find that of significant value to both contractor and client, are those organisations that are able to:

  • Develop and sustain a compatible safety culture – organisationally and personally
  • Achieve regulatory compliance
  • Demonstrate value for money

o   Understanding and appropriately acting on data

o   Coaching and development of existing resources.

  • Demonstrate sustainability of the behavioural and organisational changes over time.



We look at two nuclear contractor organisations (one in the UK and one in Spain) that are actively making a difference to their behaviours in a commercial nuclear environment.  They are creating a different business environment for their people, and are able to create a business differentiator for future work with their clients.  We consider the actual and potential impact of the changes they are making to their organisational behaviours.



The two organisations illustrated by this paper both demonstrate a strong desire to improve their internal organisations for their own and their client benefit.  While the organisations have chosen different paths to achieve their objective, one has chosen a hands-on active support approach; the other has support on a consultancy only basis, ultimately they will benefit from a robust and resilient organisation, leadership and personal safety culture.   Both organisations have commenced their safety culture journey in the last eighteen months.

The International Atomic Energy Agency states that ‘Safety culture is that assembly of characteristics and attributes in organisations and individuals which establishes that, as an overriding priority, nuclear (plant) safety issues receive the attention warranted by their significance.’

Supply chain organisations frequently do not have access to such Human Performance or Nuclear Professional industry standards as the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), or IAEA and others where the characteristics of a good safety culture are defined.  As a result, some supply chain organisations perceive that a safety culture is ‘just what a well managed company would have anyway’.

Identification of and clear descriptions of desired behaviours at the start leads to increased likelihood of success

In Case Study One it is noted that the standards of behaviour were not clearly defined between the client who owns and manages the work site and its supply chain organisations; nor were the internal behavioural standards clearly communicated.  The introduction of the HP&L intervention programme reaffirmed the standards of behaviour and enabled the methodology to support and sustain such behaviours.  In Case Study Two, the standards and expectations are an included aspect of the development and training programme and will be visible and measurable.

Active ownership of the intervention programme effectively accelerates the implementation of modified behaviours (individual and organisational)

Effective safety management requires more than just an organizational structure and a set of rules and procedures. It has roots in a strong and visible commitment to safety by top management. The priority given to safety is continually demonstrated by management attitudes, decisions and methods, as well as by a clearly stated safety policy and objectives. When the leadership and management of an organisation firmly places safety ahead of financial gain, a clear message is sent to everyone in the organisation, and a positive company safety culture is created.  It should be noted that even where a formal or active culture intervention programme does not exist, the organisation will create its own culture.  An effective safety culture programme ensures everyone has the same standards and expectations of behaviours all the time.

In Case Study One there is a commitment to revive and embed a safety culture even while there are challenging contractual and client organisation issues.  There is also an internal recognition that there is never a ‘right or good time’ to commit to improving the safety culture. There is an internal requirement to commit energy, time and focus to make safety a priority.

In Case Study Two, the leadership drive and commitment at head office and locally is remarkable in its desire to engage and embrace human performance and safety culture.  The local management team enabled a liaison meeting with their client’s Safety Management team to share the key aims and objectives.  This was a communication meeting that was well received and which will be repeated over time.

Sustainability of modified behaviours is dependent on continued focus on the intervention programme

A company’s safety culture is an intrinsic characteristic of the company itself. It is an inherent part of the operation of the organisation and must be based on high levels of information sharing and trust between management and the work force. P. Hudson (2001) has developed a model of the evolution of the safety culture in an organization as a function of increasing levels of information and trust. The model, shown in Figure 1, has five stages that proceed from almost a total disregard for safety to a culture in which safety is the preeminent company value.

Fig. 1 Hudson model

Safety Culture


A productive company safety culture encompasses both individuals and the organisation, and thus must effectively address both attitudes and structure.


Referring to the Fig. 1 Hudson model which may be used as a maturity model, organisations discussed in Case Studies One and Two recognise the value and importance of leaders and influencers to move their respective organisations up the ladder in a concerted way.  They recognise there is little value in having pockets of excellence.  Better that the whole organisation makes improvement.  The organisations are actively working to follow the key elements of Safety Culture as determined by James Reason illustrated below in Fig. 2




Fig. 2 Reason (1997) Components of Safety Culture



It is evident that supply chain organisations can significantly impact nuclear utilities simply by the importance and robustness of their nuclear safety culture. A latent error by a manufacturer can affect the utility years later; a maintenance contractor may have an immediate effect.  Similarly someone working in an office such as a design engineer or stress tester will have an effect too.  But, as we can see from the Case Studies, the biggest influencers on safety culture are the leaders and managers who reinforce the behaviours needed to engage, embed and sustain the safety culture of the organisation.

Regulators and Insurance providers are actively reviewing the Safety Culture of the nuclear utility organisations and their supply chain organisations in order to further define the risks associated with the build, commission, operation, and decommissioning of nuclear licensed sites.  It is recognised that organisations that pay attention to creating and nurturing a robust nuclear safety culture are likely to be a lower risk than those who do not.  Similarly, for a supply chain organisation, having a demonstrable robust Safety Culture is a positive differentiator in the civil nuclear commercial environment.   Where a utility can show its supply chain has a compatible safety culture, then the resilience of the organisation to error likely situations is increased.

Both organisations are pursuing a Safety Culture in the way that best suits their national cultures, their organisational needs.  Both recognise the commercial value and the value an individual feels when they know that safety really is first.