CER Safety Culture CEO Workshops (2023) Summary Report

Listening, Leveraging and Learning from Each Other

August 3, 2023

IntroductionSigns: Environment, Health and Safety

This year, the Canada Energy Regulator (CER) hosted two virtual Safety Culture Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Workshops to engage with senior leaders from regulated industry. The first workshop was held on April 25 with executive leadership from 9 of CER’s Group 2 Companies; the second was held on June 20 with executives from 4 of CER’s Group 1 Companies. The intent of these workshops was to foster open dialogue on safety culture advancement efforts. The workshop facilitated meaningful conversation among the participants and encouraged sharing of experiences and learning from one another in a small group environment.

Objectives of the workshops were to:

  • Promote learning and sharing across CER regulated companies;
  • Promote learning and sharing between the CER and regulated companies; and
  • Listen and learn from the actions of others to improve the regulator’s performance.

CER Three-Year Safety Culture Strategy

The CER shared information regarding its accomplishments from the implementation of its three-year safety culture strategy for 2020–23 and highlighted current development of the 2023–26 strategy. Both strategies are based upon two goals: (1) a focus on system influence or advancing safety culture across industry and (2) a focus on individual company understanding of human and organizational factors (HOF) including safety culture. These goals aim to be achieved through:

  • Development and sharing of safety culture guidance and tools;
  • Development of analytics to help identify human and organizational factors with company outreach activities to discuss findings; and
  • Regulatory collaboration with other agency members of the North American Regulators Working Group on Safety Culture.

To date, the CER has accomplished the following efforts:

  • Release of an updated Statement on Safety Culture;
  • Development and public release of a Safety Culture Learning Portal, which is updated regularly and provides access to materials related to safety culture;
  • Annual release of the CER’s Departmental Results Framework survey results via a letter to all Accountable Officers and public report;
  • Sponsorship and leadership of CSA Express Document 16:22 entitled Human and Organizational Factors for Optimal Pipeline Performance;
  • Execution of data projects to test for HOF intelligence within existing CER datasets to inform future industry conversations; and
  • Data collection to evaluate CER’s effectiveness and the value added by efforts taken to support continual improvement.

Workshop Format

The workshops opened with remarks from the CER’s CEO regarding the importance of senior company leaders in shaping culture and fostering safety and environmental protection as a core organizational value. A presentation on CER safety culture efforts was given followed by facilitated discussion guided by 3 key questions:

  1. 1) How has your organization advanced safety culture in the past year?
  2. 2) What cultural threats have been identified by your company in the past year and how were these threats identified and mitigated?
  3. 3) What focus areas, tools, activities, etc. could the CER focus on that would be most helpful to you and your organizational teams?

The workshops concluded with closing remarks from CER senior leadership that touched on many of the themes highlighted in the discussion.

What We Heard from Participants

1) How has your organization advanced safety culture in the past year?

Participants described a strong commitment to continually advancing safety culture and a range of efforts undertaken to achieve this goal. Statements reflected an awareness and appreciation of the critical role senior leaders play in shaping safety culture. At a high level, most responses reflected efforts to support their organization’s continual learning, supported through a just culture with high quality safety reporting.

Efforts to support and encourage the reporting of safety issues (e.g., incidents, hazards, concerns, mistakes, near-misses, etc.) were mentioned by numerous participants. Occurrences (whether errors, near-misses, formal incidents, etc.) were recognized as critical intelligence necessary for continually improving safety culture and resulting safety and environmental protection outcomes.

Comments also reflected sensitivity around the relationship of allocating monetary bonuses to performance (lagging) outcomes, and how tying bonuses to leading and proactive Health Safety & Environment (HSE) performance measures (e.g., the frequency and quality of reports, the timeliness of action taken on identified issues, etc.) can better support safety performance. Equally, there was acknowledgement that improved reporting and engagement should be celebrated, but not to the extent that it provides a false sense of security (complacency).

The importance of semantics was frequently raised with recognition that efforts taken with the best intention to improve safety and foster a healthy safety culture can be misperceived depending on the precise language used.

The role of leaders in promoting and influencing safety was recognized, including the importance of leadership visibility, transparency, and engagement with the workforce in order to stay informed on the reality of how work is performed. The value of storytelling was often cited as an approach to enhance the quality, reception, and retention of intended messages. For example, the sharing of stories and experiences of personal errors and near-misses by senior leaders was described as a valuable engagement effort that reinforces staff feeling empowered to raise and share their own experiences. A theme of “walk the talk” was also recognized throughout conversations with acknowledgement that the way leaders behave and react can often be more powerful than statements made.

Reinforcing the notion that each organization must take a unique approach that best fits their values and objectives, some participants described moving away from an explicit focus on safety culture and are instead considering how broader organizational culture improvement can support safety outcomes.

2) What cultural threats have been identified by your company in the past year and how were these threats identified and mitigated?

Production pressure was the most commonly cited cultural threat described across participants, followed by complacency, and normalization of deviance.

Limited face-to-face communications resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic were also described as a barrier to leadership visibility and effective employee engagement.

As found in previous annual workshops, contractor/sub-contractor safety culture was identified as an ongoing challenge associated with broader industry safety culture advancement.

Actions to combat these threats included many of the efforts described in responses to question 1, as well as:

  • safety communication campaigns and related efforts to ensure safety messages are continually emphasized across the organization;
  • fulsome investigations of high potential-consequence near-miss events to understand organizational contributing factors;
  • vigilant trending and analysis of “free-lessons” (e.g., hazardous occurrences, near-misses, mistakes/errors etc.) and timely corresponding action to address deficiencies;
  • encouraging leaders to openly recognize the red (poor metric results) as a driver for continuous improvement and be wary of the green (positive metric results) that might contribute to complacency;
  • taking a more balanced approach to support the agency/autonomy of site leadership and workers so they feel empowered to take action as needed; and
  • engagement with contracted staff to better understand the challenges faced and collaboration on possible solutions.

3) Related to safety culture, what focus areas, tools, activities, etc. could the CER focus on that would be most helpful to you and your organizational teams?

Participants suggested:

  1. Establishing a CER-Industry and/or CER-Cross-Industry (e.g., aviation, nuclear industries) community of practice. Participants mentioned this group could help inform the CER’s 3-year safety culture strategy, share learnings related to safety culture advancement, and discuss other safety-related topics of interest (e.g., integrity).
  2. Communicating CER intelligence related to emerging themes and trends in a timely fashion, and CER utilizing this intelligence to inform the focus areas, tools, activities, etc., that would best support regulated companies.
  3. Supporting improved understanding of the relationship between Management Systems and Culture (e.g., through guidance, tools, etc.).
  4. Supporting industry efforts related to Fitness for Duty, including how to support the psychological capabilities of staff and leaders and how to manage organizational threats related to drugs and alcohol.
  5. Providing more guidance and information on leading indicators that can help with early identification of workplace system threats.

Next Steps

The CER will use the intelligence from the workshops to inform the implementation of our three-year safety culture strategy (2023–26), including a detailed workplan, prioritization, and timelines. On completion, the strategy and workplan will be published on the CER’s Safety Culture webpage located on the CER website. The CER will also continue to seek opportunities for ongoing outreach with industry members on safety culture advancement.

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