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RR756 - Risk leadership and organisational type

The anecdotal experience of new entrants in the UK offshore industry is that they are not, as a group, safer or less safe than established organisations. Similarly, the organisational arrangements that are sometimes associated with new entrants - such as the separation of ownership and operation - are not clearly less safe than more traditional arrangements. What seems to matter more is a deeper capacity to make chosen ways of organising work. This particularly involves being 'rigorous': not just developing effective safety practices but dealing with the by-products and side-effects of such practices.

An analysis of a set of accident reports, and a set of interviews carried out with HSE inspectors and staff in five offshore operators, produced a detailed account of what this kind of rigour looked like in practice. The analysis also indicated that being rigorous was an organisational practice that itself had by-products needing to be managed. So rigour needs to be seen as a continual practice of being committed to particular actions and at the same time being attentive to the consequences. Rigour of this kind points to a strong emphasis on leadership - leadership that promotes an attention to refining practice that does not seem to come naturally or easily to organisations.

Organisations that were new entrants to the industry faced problems that made particular demands on their capacities to be rigorous. For example, they had to maintain safety while managing transitions in ownership and organisational culture, getting used to new labour market conditions and regulatory requirements, and coping with the physical and organisational legacies inherited from previous owners of an installation. The recommendation is that this concept of rigour becomes a part of the way in which safety management systems are scrutinised.

This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.

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Updated 2010-01-27