Melting the Iceberg

In order to better understand the 2003 Space Shuttle disaster, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) started their analysis with the following observation: “Organizational culture refers to the basic values, norms, beliefs, and practices that characterize the functioning of a particular institution. At the most basic level, organizational culture defines the assumptions that employees make as they carry out their work; it defines ‘the way we do things here.’ An organization’s culture is a powerful force that persists through reorganizations and the departure of key personnel” (CAIB Report, Vol. I, 2003).

Organizational culture regarding safety and security is very similar – it’s about the practices and habits and beliefs about risks and responsibilities that have developed over a long time. Official company policies are only the visible part of that culture, the top of the iceberg. It is the underlying rest that could doom the ship if not properly understood and addressed.

The question is, how can employees and managers “melt the iceberg” and generate a reliable, positive culture of safety and security? According to James Reason, a preeminent industrial psychologist, there are five key attributes (Reason, Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents, 1998):

  1. Information
  2. Reporting
  3. Fairness
  4. Flexibility
  5. Learning

These attributes will sound familiar to management professionals, and they are indeed not unique to safety and security culture. This means you will not have to reinvent the wheel or add yet another layer of training, but can re-emphasize and re-focus existing change management efforts , and our experts at novaturient can assist in that process. In the next part, we will discuss these factors in more detail as they relate to safety and security.

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