PDCA blog

Cultural Assessment: A Critical Tool to Support PSMS and Enhance Pipeline Safety

The safety culture in pipeline operations is based on a collection of the attitudes, perceptions, and values that your stakeholders share in relation to the risks within your operation. If you don’t assess the safety culture, you limit your ability to utilize stakeholder engagement to identify potential pipeline safety issues. You will also lack viable means to demonstrate improvements to the maturity of your PSMS.

Cultural assessments provide a number of leading indicators related to stakeholder engagement and how well quality management supports the safety culture. The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle that pipeliners are familiar with from the framework of Pipeline Safety Management Systems (Pipeline SMS) is the basis by which a cultural assessment should be made.

Stakeholders’ perspectives on your operation’s systemic application of quality management (Plan, Do, Check, Act) are the key source of information utilized to identify issues, drive investigation, and implement corrective actions as required. This is where a cultural assessment becomes an integral part of your process.

Why Perform a Cultural Assessment to Support Pipeline Safety?

Cultural assessments allow an organization to better understand the degree of application of quality management principles. Historically, the majority of major pipeline incidents have been traced back to organizational failures that would have been prevented or mitigated if quality management principles were ingrained in the culture.

A cultural assessment measures the perceptions of the stakeholders relative to whether the organization is planning, doing, checking, and acting. This results in the right person doing the right job in the right place in the right way — thus achieving the right results (and improved safety culture).

Understanding the value of a cultural assessment begins with understanding how to view safety culture in the context of pipeline operations. Safety culture is actually comprised of two aspects: Personnel Safety and Asset Safety.

– Personnel safety culture is an evaluation of whether your people are following basic safety procedures. Are they wearing hard hats and PPE? Do they have the appropriate footwear? This is not as critical when it comes to protecting your assets.

Assessments have been conducted for years on Personnel Safety, with measurable improvements as measured by the number of lost time incidents. However, the objective of the PSMS is to address Asset Safety.

– Asset safety culture impacts risk management. Risk is the probability of an asset failing multiplied by the consequence of that failure. The probability of failure is highly impacted by the existence of organizational failure, which is a direct result of the lack of the systemic application of quality management principles. The execution of these principles is measured through the cultural assessment.

If personnel follow your operation’s processes by doing the right thing at the right time in the right way, then there will be a reduction in the probability of the failure and the consequence of the failure of a particular asset.

Implementing a Pipeline Safety Cultural Assessment

A cultural assessment provides the initial perspectives or baseline understanding of the perceptions of safety as it relates to Asset Safety. Consider these examples:

  • How many people responded to the survey on asset safety? If you sent out a survey to 100 individuals, but only 15 people responded, you can determine the level of stakeholder engagement.
    • If future assessments do not indicate an improvement in stakeholder engagement, this could indicate that your operation/leadership has not placed the appropriate emphasis on safety because stakeholders do not see this as an important matter worthy of their input.
  • How many safety issues were reported? If you sent out a survey to 100 individuals and there were 85 observations of asset safety issues, then you can draw two important conclusions. One conclusion is that your stakeholders are engaged to report safety issues. That’s good. The other conclusion is that you have a very strong indicator that there is risk in the operation. That’s not good, but now you can get out ahead of it by taking action.
    • Subsequent assessments will indicate the degree by which your corrective actions were effective, or will drive additional investigation as to why they were not.

Analysis of the assessment results over time in both Stakeholder Engagement and the application of quality management principles provides a clear indication of the improving maturity of the PSMS.

Utilize P.I. Confluence Tools to Perform a Cultural Assessment

A primary challenge for pipeline operators is not having a mechanism that allows them to perform an effective cultural assessment. Many operators lack tools to support their ability to:

  • Facilitate stakeholder engagement.
  • Customize assessments by area or stakeholder.
  • Collect both structured responses and supporting information.
  • Survey specific targets (e.g. stakeholder groups and geographic locations).
  • Customize automated analytics designed to provide direction for improvement and to demonstrate maturity by location, stakeholder, or area of interest.
  • Share feedback to stakeholders so that they know their input is being taken seriously and acted upon.

Our tool, Program Stakeholder Engagement Communications (pSEc), provides each of these benefits.

We will work with you to develop customized assessments based on your organizational structure as well as the current state of your culture. These assessments may start at a very high level or they may be designed to better understand a specific issue you are experiencing.

Discussions with your team will determine the best place to start and a path forward to improve the safety culture through a reduction of risk associated with organizational failure.

– To schedule an educational software demo to see pSEc in action, contact us today. Let’s discuss this opportunity to support pipeline safety and protect your assets through the implementation of a cultural assessment.


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