The human factor
The human factor has long been identified as a contributing factor to incidents. Therefore, it seems logical to blame incidents on individuals or small groups of people. By taking this approach in addressing human error, organisations ignore the contribution to human error of the hidden conditions of work imposed by the system they work in.
Instead, human error should be recognised as an outcome of combined factors, rather than the root cause of an incident. Organisation, working conditions (not only stress, but competition, for example), and other factors that can influence behaviour all interact to influence the likelihood that an individual will perform his task correctly or make an error (concept of human reliability).
Increasingly, the term used to refer to this parameter is ‘human and organisational factors.”
Falsified certificates in South Korea and in France
In 2012, the South Korean state-owned company Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP), which operates the nation’s 23 nuclear reactors, had to stop most of its reactors, following the discovery that thousands of nuclear power plant components were delivered with falsified certificates over a period of nearly 10 years (from 2003 to 2012). This incident is another example of the difficulty in separating human factors from other factors that contribute to an incident.
The government probe found that 277 faked certificates for parts used in 20 operating reactors, as well as 2,010 false documents at eight nuclear power plant units that were offline or under construction. The probe led to the replacement of almost all the components in question and to the indictment of about 100 officials from KHNP, parts suppliers, and certifiers on charges of forgery and corruption. The persons indicted included an unnamed former chief executive at KHNP and a vice-president of KEPCO (Korea Electric Power Co., the parent company of KNHP). The probe led also to a new organisation: KNHP’s new CEO, Cho Seok, pledged to redesign the troubled nuclear entity to bring about changes in human resources as well as reform its corporate culture and its culture of nuclear safety.
Source: American Nuclear Society
A similar event occurred in France more recently. In 2015, the French national Nuclear Safety Authority (Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire, ASN) revealed that Areva, the manufacturer, had found nonconformances, or irregularities, , in the metal quality of the reactor pressure vessel closure head and the vessel bottom head of the Flamanville EPR reactor(under construction). These nonconformances – a larger than allowed content of carbon in the steel which weakens the metal’s tensile strength – had been found under new regulations that required much more comprehensive testing than had been the case before.
Using the same criteria, Areva also identified similar faults in the channel heads that form the bottom of steam generators in a number of French reactors.
It was found that someone at Areva had systematically falsified quality control certificates for many components over several years.
This led ASN to order the temporary shutdown of a dozen reactors to check the safety of the components that were delivered by Areva, some with faked certificates, as well as some that came from a Japanese sub-contractor.
To this day, it is still not known why falsified certificates were emitted.
Source: Autorité de sûreté nucléaire