January 13, 2021
PHMSA’s Safety Culture Efforts
What We Looked At
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) aims to protect people and the environment by advancing the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials. An essential element of PHMSA’s safety mission is its underlying safety culture—the organization’s safety-related values and behaviors. A positive safety culture is essential to any organization that directly or indirectly addresses high-hazard risks, such as the regulatory agencies of DOT. We initiated this audit to help Agency leaders make informed decisions about their organizational safety culture and focused on PHMSA because it had publicly identified fostering a positive safety culture as a strategic goal. The first part of this report is an assessment of PHMSA’s safety culture. The second part evaluates PHMSA’s efforts to foster a positive safety culture as it carries out its mission and other responsibilities.
What We Found
While PHMSA exhibits several indicators of a positive safety culture, we also found opportunities to further enhance its efforts. For example, many employees have positive perceptions of their immediate supervisors and the Agency’s impact on industry safety. However, some non-supervisors indicated that they do not trust management to share information and perceive that industry and PHMSA are not sufficiently separate, which may impact the way employees share concerns with management. PHMSA also developed a number of safety culture–related initiatives but did not always complete or document its actions. For example, in 2015, PHMSA allocated $1.5 million for safety culture planning and, over the next 4 years, expended one-third of that amount. Additionally, no one individual is focused wholly on fostering a positive safety culture at all times, including during changes of administrations. While most employees believe PHMSA’s leadership is committed to safety, some express doubt about the leadership’s commitment to fostering a positive safety culture.
PHMSA concurred with our two recommendations to enhance its efforts to foster a positive safety culture. Accordingly, we consider them resolved but open pending completion of the planned actions.