Safety Culture Research

It’s time I wrote a blatant plug for Research Program 4 of the Energy Pipelines CRC, for which I chair the steering committee.  RP4 is titled “Public Safety and Security of Supply”, but that doesn’t properly explain what it’s all about.

Previously in this blog I’ve written directly or indirectly about safety culture on a few occasions, all prompted by some aspect of the San Bruno disaster.  Topics touched on included high reliability organisations, safety culture, responsibility for safety, and organisational failure.

Underlying all that is recognition that no matter how well-engineered a system is, and no matter how comprehensive the operating and maintenance procedures, all major industrial catastrophes have a very large element of human error.  And since no man is an island, that means that organisational culture has a huge role to play in safety.  And that in turn means that if we want to continuing improving safety we need sociological research into all aspects of organisational and social culture that influence safety.

Despite a career on the technical side of engineering I find this aspect of safety fascinating.  Unfortunately, although its importance seems self-evident to me not all engineers see things the same way.  At the APIA/PRCI/EPRG Joint Technical Meeting in San Francisco in May some of us were a bit stunned by a very senior engineer pronouncing that as long as you had the procedures of the XX Company Management System nothing more was needed.  (XX Company’s name is attached to one of the worlds most notorious disasters, admittedly a while ago.)

I would really like everyone in the Australian (and worldwide) pipeline industry to recognise the importance of safety culture within organisations and society as a whole.  And more than that, to recognise that no-one is perfect, no organisation is perfect, and hence a degree of humility and introspection about one’s own attitude to safety in design and operation is a very good thing.

So if our excellent researchers approach your organisation with a request to participate in some aspect of organisational safety research, please do whatever you can to cooperate.

This post has been full of very general statements and it’s already long enough.  There are a lot more specifics about the RP4 program in this document.  I encourage you to read it.

This entry was posted in Incidents, Operations, Pipeline design, Research. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Safety Culture Research

  1. Liz Brierley says:


    On the topic of public safety (sort of) for some time POG has been discussing putting together an internet based training package for emergency services. There has always been an issue getting emergency services personnel together for pipeline awareness sessions, as they are typically shift workers and in some organisations such as CFA and CFS they are made up of volunteers. I was reminded of this issue a couple of weeks ago when we held an emergency exercise and very few attendees from emergency services had an understanding of a safe evaculation zone after a pipeline failure, despite the time and effort we put into pipeline awareness!

    There is also an issue that in some areas there are multiple pipelines, with different owners and we are not all presenting a conisistent message.

    Police and Fire have both expressed interest in an a self paced computer based training module. However, progress on developing the package has been slow.

    I am now pulling together a framework and I would like to use the Belgium incident as a case study because of the impact on emergency services. Do you have any specific information on this incident, or contacts that may be able to provide information in particular on the emergency response to the pipeline leak prior to failure?

    I would also be intersted in any thoughts you or any of the program 4 researchers have on what should be included in the training package.


    • petertuft says:


      That sounds like a really important initiative. However it’s somewhat outside the core RP4 area which at this stage is more to do with organisational culture within the industry rather than external bodies. That might change in the longer term, and I don’t mean to diminish the importance of emergency response. One of the RP4 researchers has done a little work in that area and I’ll pass on the contact details offline, as well as the limited information I have on the Belgian incident.

      Peter T.

  2. Pingback: Safety culture research projects | Pipelines OZ

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