Regulating the intangible. Searching for safety culture in the Norwegian petroleum industry

Studio Apertura

​The way organizational culture can influence safety has been a topic in safety research and accident investigations for decades. This has led to an increasing interest from regulators to include the concept of safety culture into the sphere of risk regulation. In the Norwegian petroleum regulations, a requirement for a “sound health, safety and environment culture” was introduced in 2002. The article presents a qualitative study of the perceived effects of this requirement on safety, seen from the perspective of both the regulator and the regulated companies. The study shows that introducing the concept of safety culture into regulation can have positive effects both within the regulated companies and within the regulator’s own organization. While certainly not being suited for a “command and control” approach to regulation, requirements to a “sound HSE culture” serves as an important policy statement in Norwegian regulations. It influences the whole institutional field to explore new approaches to safety.

Introducing the concept of safety (or HSE) culture into the regulatory vocabulary has served as a sensitizing concept for both the regulator and the industry, thereby increasing both parties’ ability to address informal and systemic aspects of safety.