Need to study ‘Culture for Safety’ in Bangladesh: Abid Imtiaz

Dr. Abid Imtiaz, Head of Nuclear Safety Section at Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC)
Dr. Abid Imtiaz, Head of Nuclear Safety Section at Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC)

Dr. Abid Imtiaz, Head of Nuclear Safety Section at Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) is conducting a research on “Factors that can Influence Culture for Safety, Organizational Culture and Human Performance at Nuclear and Other Facilities in Bangladesh”. He talks to Nuclear Asia about the culture for safety in Bangladesh as the country starts building its first nuclear power plant. Read the complete interview here:

Nuclear Power companies have been claiming that the technology is safe and secure. However, in the backdrop of Fukushima accident the question does arise how safe are nuclear power technologies?

The technology of nuclear power plant is very advanced, but sensitive. It is unlikely that it will pose any serious threat to the environment and humans, if managed properly. Utilizing the latest technologies in a nuclear power plant is the best way to make it safe and secure but, it is not the ultimate solution. The human intervention is there when it comes to operate and manage the power plant. People involved in operating a nuclear power plant have to be responsible and cautious about the security of the plant. They have to be trained in the safety culture. There are hundreds of people involved in various activities ranging from pre-operational, operational and decommissioning stages of the project. It is still possible to mitigate the error margin to a minimum level through a continuous improvement process of performance.

How will it be possible to establish the ‘culture for safety’ in Bangladesh?

It is a very good question. Culture for safety can be established in our country by practicing honesty, truthfulness, discipline, safety, mutual respect in the personal, social and national level of our lives. The way we will change our behavior, the way it will be reflected in our culture, considering the fact that behavior or attitude, is a part of our culture.

What do you mean by ‘organizational culture for safety’?

You know… I am still learning these things. In fact, it is my research topic and I have an interest in it. Prominent social scientist Professor Edgar H Schein described the organizational culture in his highly acclaimed ‘Organizational Culture and Leadership’ book (published by Jossey-Bass: 2010) in a detailed manner. The leader of a particular organization may play the most vital and unique role to develop the organizational culture of that organization. That means the leadership of an organization plays a great role to make any changes to the organizational culture where management and administration just work within that culture. Notice that, leadership and management or administration are quite different things in this aspect and the same theory can be applied to society and state.

However, to introduce, develop and sustain a healthy organizational culture, mutual effort from both the leaders and the management are mandatory. In fact, culture refers to all elements of a group or organization, which are the most stable and minimal flexible. According to professor Schein, culture is a dynamic thing which encompasses us. It is created by the leaders and implemented by us through our mutual interaction and on the other hand, culture is influenced or controlled by structured structures, routines, rules and sermons. Creation of organizational culture is a dynamic process and management is the essence of leadership – it is revealed that leadership and culture are the two sides of the same coin.

‘Safety culture’ and ‘culture for safety’ are they the same thing? If not then what are the differences?

Actually, both of these ideas share the same goal but may have a different point of view. Both these ideas have the identical goal of establishing the core safety values within the professionals and make these safety values evident within the professionals working in the nuclear power plant. Commercial nuclear power plants are there in the world for more than six decades. The world has seen three major nuclear accidents so far. Learning from these catastrophic accidents, rest of the nuclear power plants have developed their technologies and have uplifted their safety standards to a high level to avoid such accidents.

The concept of ‘Human Factor’ came after the ‘Three Mile Island Accident’ in 1979. After the ‘Chernobyl accident’ of 1986, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) introduced ‘safety culture’ concept. The demand of considering the ‘Beyond Design Basis External Events (BDBEE)’ concept became evident in the wake of the latest accident of Fukushima. The demand for establishing safety culture properly in all the institutions related to the nuclear power plant ranging from operator, regulator and government advisor and so on has become prominent after the Fukushima accident. But there is a question about the helpfulness of the concept of ‘safety culture’ that was introduced nearly three decades ago for the nuclear industry. It is true that the concept could not meet the demands fully yet, it is still considered a vital concept for the ‘high-reliability organization’. Many of the agencies of the world have conducted assessments on safety culture and found it as important.

According to the experts and specialist, safety culture is a unique entity, which can be imported or implanted in the existing culture of any country or organization. In fact, since any culture cannot be imported or embedded in any other culture, the valid values for the safety performance must have to be raised from the existing culture.

Bangladesh is installing its first-ever nuclear power plant, tell us something about its safety culture?

We know that, we are installing a nuclear power plant for the first time. The main construction has recently begun with the First Concrete Pouring (FCP). We hope that the construction of the power plant will be completed within due time. By implementing this power plant Bangladesh will meet one of its major goal.

There has been no study on the safety values of our countrymen. Like you, or many other common citizens of the country, I also have an observational assumption about it. We should ask ourselves about how cautious we are about safety in our personal, social and organizational life. How aligned our underlying assumptions of safety values are with the artifacts and core values! In this regard give an example of the great Noble laureate scientist H. W. Kroto, who said in one of his autographs that, ‘I seek not the answers, but to understand the questions’.

Are you doing any research in ‘culture for safety’ in Bangladesh, or have you any interest in it?

Of course, as I have said earlier that I have keen interest in the topic of ‘culture for safety’. I along with Dr. Md. Dulal Hossain and some other specialists have been conducting a research under a coordinated research project of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Association) titled- “Factors that can Influence Culture for Safety, Organizational Culture and Human Performance at Nuclear and Other Facilities in Bangladesh”. I hope that, the lion’s share of the research project is going to be finished within the next 18-20 months.