Management of knowledge important to safety

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The management of knowledge that if forgotten will reduce safety margins


Managers of nuclear organizations need to understand the important link between knowledge management and safety. Specific and advanced levels of knowledge are typically required to achieve and maintain high levels of safety. Appropriate technical expertise and experience must be developed and be available throughout the nuclear technology life-cycle. If a nuclear organization does not possess or have access to required technical knowledge, a full understanding of the potential consequences of decisions and actions may not be possible, and safety may be compromised.

Effective decision making during design, licensing, procurement, construction, commissioning, operation, maintenance, refurbishment, and decommissioning of nuclear facilities needs to be risk-informed and knowledge-driven. Nuclear technology is complex and brings with it inherent and unique risks that must be managed to acceptably low levels.

Nuclear facilities may have very long life-cycles with changing operational conditions.

A nuclear organization's ability to take safe decisions and actions is continually being threatened by the risk of knowledge loss. To ensure safety, nuclear managers have a responsibility not only to establish adequate technical knowledge and experience in their nuclear organizations but also to maintain it. This is the reason why nuclear knowledge management is important.


Guidelines for licensees on requirements for the management of knowledge important to safety

The Licensee should ensure adequate knowledge and information exists within the organization to properly understand and maintain the integrity of the design bases and the safety of operational and maintenance processes that rely on it

  • An adequate scope and depth of technical expertise and experience must be available, facility design basis documentation and records must be correct, and work processes and procedures must embed appropriate consideration of design basis safety to ensure the integrity of safety functions, defence-in-depth and the safe operating envelope can be maintained.

Senior Management should ensure that within the management systems adequate knowledge management processes exist to:

  • Systematically identify knowledge and information that is essential for safety or that will enhance safety, including the managerial knowledge needed for adequate and effective decision processes;
  • Proactively manage and prevent loss of useful knowledge and gaps in essential knowledge that may lead to errors or incorrect decision making and result in failures or events that impact safety
    • It is important to ensure essential knowledge is not lost, particularly that tacit knowledge and experience from senior or expert staff is transferred to successors, and that knowledge transfer processes and mechanisms are adequately formalized and supported, and that open and effective knowledge-sharing is fostered, and recognized.);
  • Establish, mobilize and maintain sufficient knowledge and competency to properly interpret and apply the design bases in the context of the safe operation and maintenance of systems
    • This is necessary to ensure safety objectives can be achieved for all systems, structures or components important to safety, or which under failure conditions may threaten the safe operating envelope. This also applies to the testing and modification of these systems.
  • Ensure all design bases documentation and information needed to establish the state of the facility are complete and correct and are appropriately available to those who need it, when needed, to ensure safety
    • This is necessary to ensure that it adequately reflects design changes, lessons learned from operating experience or changing conditions (e.g. ageing or wear-out) in the plant. It is also important to ensure that procedures exist to enable sufficient and accurate capture of technical data, that information and records are effectively captured, stored, and managed so that they are searchable and retrievable and can be made available to those who need it when needed.;
  • Ensure the knowledge embedded in the organization’s processes, procedures, manuals, or other information that is related to safe operation and maintenance is kept consistent with the design basis and adequately reflects design changes, lessons learned from operating experience or changing conditions
    • It is necessary to ensure knowledge which may be contained in information such as training material that is derived or interpreted from design basis information (such as operating limits and conditions, safety-related design parameters, safety requirements, or fundamental design rationale or assumptions related to systems, structures or components important to safety) is regularly validated over the lifecycle. For example, lessons learned from root-cause analysis of operating incidents or events may create the need for design basis changes, or for corrections in the design basis documentation, or for changes in derived information (e.g. an operating procedure), or all three.;
  • Ensure that when knowledge related to the safe operation of the plant resides outside of the organization, measures are taken to ensure knowledge loss risks are identified and managed such that sufficient knowledge and competency is maintained and that adequate knowledge transfer and validation occurs
    • This can be particularly important during new build projects to ensure knowledge is captured during licensing, construction, and commissioning and that it is complete and can be maintained. Similarly it can be important if reliance for knowledge is on an outside services or Design organization|design organization]], for example for outage maintenance work, design changes, safety analysis or refurbishment.; and
  • Ensure that the organizational knowledge and competency requirements are periodically assessed to consider changes due to life-cycle issues, changes in external factors or regulatory requirements, etc. and that they are adequately addressed
    • This can be particularly important to accommodate refurbishment projects for life-extension, decommissioning, site expansion with construction of new units etc.).

Senior Management should establish clear policy and expectations for the organization regarding the importance of, and shared responsibility for, effective knowledge management and learning processes

  • It is important to safety to integrate and embed knowledge management thinking and culture into the organization. Management leadership is needed to achieve this at that all levels so that: decisions are risk-informed; knowledge is utilized effectively; known problems and mistakes are not repeated; best practices are shared; operational experience is captured; and lessons learned are incorporated.

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