Cracking the Code of Process Safety Culture with Organizational Network Analysis

  • Type:
    Conference Presentation
  • Conference Type:
    AIChE Spring Meeting and Global Congress on Process Safety
  • Presentation Date:
    April 27, 2015
  • Duration:
    30 minutes
  • Skill Level:
  • PDHs:

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Organizations in the chemical process industry invest considerable amounts of time and resources managing change and implementing best practices to improve operational performance. Consequently, most executives and senior managers responsible for business performance rely on the formal organizational structure to achieve these objectives. However, front line employees responsible for ensuring safe operation of hazardous chemical processes are often influenced not by the formal, but the informal organization in their day-to-day activities. The dynamics of these informal networks are critical determinants of strong operational discipline, process safety culture, and business performance, yet they are often overlooked or not well understood by management.

If the formal organization is the skeleton of a company, then the informal is the central nervous system that guides collective thoughts, decisions, and actions.  Organizational network analysis, a key technique applied in sociology and management science, was used to map informal networks among front line employees at a chemical processing facility. As part of this study, a novel survey instrument was developed to measure an individual's level of operational discipline and designed to minimize the influence of social desirability response bias. Results of the survey instrument were used to develop correlations between employee interactions and the intensity of operational discipline. The authors apply diffusion of innovation theory to understand how an employee’s ability to recognize hazards, make decisions, and take action influences other employees. Organizational network analysis software was utilized to provide visual representations of the network structures that are informative to management. Armed with these insights, organizations can uncover hidden communication barriers, be more proactive in identifying key influencers, and make sustainable improvements to process safety culture.

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