Many initiatives intended to improve safety in nuclear facilities have used the concept of “safety culture,” which focuses on human and organizational factors and emphasizes the importance of the perceptions, interpretations, and behaviors of the individuals and groups within organizations.

Particularly when it comes to risk management, it is widely believed that safety culture can be a used as a lever to strengthen a company’s overall structure and organization. But how is it possible to ensure that a new safety policy or organizational infrastructure really will promote safe and reliable operations without unforeseen and undesired cultural consequences? Once recommendations have been issued, how is it possible to assess the extent to which safety culture has (or has not) improved?

This paper argues that using what we call a “cultural analysis framework” can be a powerful way to identify and understand cultural elements that have an impact on reliability and safety within organizations. We will use a case study of the introduction of a safety management system in a nuclear facility to present this original approach. Because safety culture is a highly complex topic that can be challenging to address directly, our cultural analysis framework approaches a system at three levels, which, when explored together, can help to develop a comprehensive understanding of the cultural aspects of safety in an organization. First, at the macro level this approach examines the cultural background of a system and how it is integrated into an existing organizational culture. Second, at the meso level it looks at the collective aspects of a given system within an organization. Third, at the micro level it investigates collective and social life (modes of socialization, relationships, trust, practice sharing), as well as the symbolic and identity-related aspects of a system.

Based on the findings of our study, this paper concludes that a socio-comprehensive approach to safety can be an effective means to identify “reasonable” actions to be taken in any organization seeking to improve risk management.