Safety culture research projects

I have written before about the safety culture research program of the Energy Pipelines CRC but it’s worth expanding on that a little, not least because last time I didn’t go into any specifics about the actual research projects.  Below is a summary of the current projects, some of which might look a bit obscure without more detailed explanation.  In occasional future posts I may provide that explanation for some or all of them.

  • Safety incentive schemes for senior executives.  How do the performance agreements for senior management in pipeline and other energy companies affect safety performance of the company as a whole?  A number of previous disaster investigations (not Australian) have highlighted this as a key issue.
  • Organisational design and the influence of safety specialists.  How does the organisational structure of a pipeline or energy company affect the influence of those with technical responsibility for safety?  Are they just advisors or do they have real authority?  How does this affect the company’s safety performance.  Again, this topic has emerged from previous disaster investigations.
  • Safety in design.  Good design is critical to safety.  If the design is less than optimum then all the operational practices in the world can only be a second-best approach to safety.  How well do those involved in design, at every stage from concept development onwards, appreciate the importance of their decisions for long term operational safety?  Those involved in design may think this is unnecessary but it is a topic that has never been subject to social science research – we don’t know what we don’t know.  Given the criticality of design for safe operation it is worth investigation.
  • Land use planning.  This short-term project is to support the APIA Corridor Committee, which could make use of legal background on issues surrounding urban encroachment around existing pipelines.  It is looking at the Corridor Committee’s concept of a notification zone around pipelines as well as the general legal background on land use planning as it affects pipelines.

In addition to the research projects there will be an extensive program of seminar presentations to raise awareness in the industry of the sociological aspects of safety.  You can expect to hear a lot more about it in the next year.

There are also two research proposals for work that may of broad general interest:

  • San Bruno.  An examination of the publicly available reports on this disaster to draw conclusions from a social science perspective.  It is likely to reach findings related directly or indirectly to the other research projects above as well as other aspects such as, for example, the influence of regulation.  It would also provide material for seminars and training.
  • Intergenerational study (aka the young engineers project).  This project would look at how young pipeliners are learning (both formally and informally) about their role in maintaining public safety.  It also addresses how knowledge of safety, which may be highly tacit amongst more experienced professionals, can most effectively be shared.  YPF members in particular can expect to hear more about this if the project proceeds.

There are lots of other things that we would like to work on within this social science program but resources are not unlimited.  One future topic that is very likely to proceed eventually (but not for at least a couple of years) is investigation into why third parties still damage pipelines despite all the procedural measures in place (warning signs, dial before you dig, landowner liaison, etc).

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