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Karlene H Roberts: A good safety culture prevents accidents

Developing organisational cultures with reliable and effective interaction between competent managers and specialists who dare to challenge each other is essential for preventing major accidents.


This point was made by University of California professor Karlene G Roberts (right) in her keynote speech during the Safety Lunch at ONS in Stavanger on 26 August.

She has devoted many years to research on high-reliability organisations (HROs), which are characterised by a particularly well-developed safety culture.

That in turn means such outfits experience fewer undesirable incidents than is normally the case for other companies.

Research has confirmed that, while all organisations will sooner or later experience accidents, some are notably competent at avoiding them.

The starting point for Prof Roberts’ research has been military aviation and the nuclear power industry, which usually deal with complex and demanding technologies.

But she demonstrated in her speech that the theories developed for these sectors are easily transferable to the petroleum industry, among others.

The key concept for HROs is robustness, That includes the introduction and implementation of organisational redundancy, and the ability to alter operational mode in line with changing demands for performance, ways of working and work processes.

See also: Safety Lunch at ONS: risk of a major accident is always present