What are the current nuclear HOF issues?

October 5, 2010

On Thursday 16 September, the EI hosted the ‘Nuclear human factors’ seminar, in association with the Nuclear Institute and sponsored by Lloyd’s Register.  The event was chaired by Rear Admiral (retd) Paul Thomas CB FREng, President of the Nuclear Institute, with Professor Sue Cox giving the Keynote address.

Paul Thomas and Sue Cox began by introducing human factors (HF), what HF is and detailing the importance of HF to the nuclear industry.  The presentations that followed, presented by a variety of prominent names in the industry (including Richard Scaife, Keil Centre; Helen Rycraft, Magnox North; Aileen Sullivan, EDF Energy; and Joe McClusky, Sellafield; to name but a few speakers), summarised the issues facing the nuclear industry in the UK into:

  1. the decommissioning of old installations;
  2. the building of new installations;
  3. the integration of HF into the early stages of a project; and
  4. the challenges of being a high reliability organisation. 

The seminar provided the opportunity for those in the industry to share the various methodologies being developed to address these issues.

High reliability
Joe McClusky talked about high reliability organisations (HROs), showing that they do exist (giving an aircraft carrier as an example), and identified the attributes of a HRO.  In a separate presentation, Charles Bray (National Skills Academy) showed the financial importance of HF, giving two examples: Olkiluoto nuclear plant, which is running €2.7 billion over budget, partially due to poor design considerations; and Heysham, which, during an unplanned shutdown, lost around £500K per day.  Clearly, high reliability is not just an important consideration from a health and safety perspective, but financially too. 

Helen Rycraft discussed some of the practical HF issues that need to be considered in operational facilities that are introducing hybrid systems – incorporating new technologies into old systems and designs – such as the need to include operators in the design and assessment stage.  Aileen Sullivan outlined a method for managing HF that was developed at EDF.  The method suggests that HF issues should be handled in a specific way, focusing on (in order): 

  1. the results of poor HF performance (such as unplanned losses);
  2. the ‘reactive’ measures to correct the problem (e.g. investigations);
  3. corrective actions (root causes in the equipment, process and organisation, and people) and the detection of issues (near-misses);
  4. preventative actions (such as system walkdowns, self-assessments and coaching).

The decommissioning of nuclear installations in the UK is a major HF challenge.  Of concern in the industry is how to properly integrate HF into a project from the outset, and how to maintain HF standards.  The problem arises because of two reasons.  Firstly, a decommissioning project may last 100 years or more, which is a long time to plan ahead for.  The nature of the work may also change on a regular basis, and so integrating HF from the outset is difficult, especially if you are losing key skilled workers as the project winds down.  Secondly, it is easy to get complacent in a decommissioning project, especially since it is no longer an operational (and money making) facility – there is the danger that the focus will shift to cost saving, resulting in standards becoming lax, and there is also the danger that a decommissioning project will be viewed merely as a demolition project, which it should not be seen as.  The Keil Centre has been working closely with Magnox North Sites on developing guidance for decommissioning, part of which is available from the EI human factors website.

New installations
New builds is another area of concern, notably because of the difficulties of integrating HF into a design from the beginning.  Some in the seminar argued that the safety case is not the place to integrate HF, because at the safety case stage the design of the installation (e.g. control rooms) may largely be unknown.  However, whilst detailed HF analysis of design comes later in the project lifecycle, it is still possible to show and document that this has been considered from the outset.  Peter Ackroyd (Health and Safety Executive [HSE]) talked about the use of the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) to assess HF in 5 ‘streams’: substantiation of human based safety actions; plant wide generic HF assessment; HF in engineering systems; HF integration; and generic human reliability assessment.  Lloyd’s Register outlined a different method for HF integration based on a 4 stage design:

  1. conceptual design and safety case preparation (including HF integration plan, feasibility of design, the safety case itself, identifying tasks and procedures and risk levels);
  2. a fundamental safety review (contributing to the preliminary review);
  3. an overall design safety review; and
  4. a detailed design. 

Following this methodology, there would be a clear integration of HF, from initial considerations (at a reasonable level of detail), through to detailed analysis of the design at the appropriate stages in a project lifecycle.

The seminar saw a good, but modest, attendance, leading to one attendee to remark that the nuclear industry already does HF to a high level and so many people may not see the attendance of a HF event as a high priority.  However, clearly there is the will and need in the industry to communicate HF issues and developments, and the level of enthusiasm showed both from speakers and attendees in the discussions that took place during the seminar showed that those in the industry still have a lot to learn from each other, especially on HF integration, which underpins many of the issues currently faced by the industry.

The proceedings from the seminar are available for purchase from the Energy Institute.  Contact Vickie Naidu e: VNaidu@energyinst.org.uk for more information.