Understanding the Regulator – Regulatee Relationship for Developing Safety Culture

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Regulatory authorities in safety-critical industries typically seek to influence the safety culture of the organizations they oversee. However, we know little about how regulatory authorities achieve this influence (e.g., what roles are adopted, relationship characteristics) and, more generally, about how external actors shape an organization’s safety culture. Using a qualitative design in the nuclear industry, we developed our conceptual and empirical understanding of the roles through which a regulator influences the safety culture of their regulated organizations and what characteristics within the regulator-regulatee relationship facilitate positive safety culture developments. Data was collected through interviews with inspectors from a nuclear regulator and employees of regulated nuclear organizations, and from an inspection of regulatory documents. The findings identified that the regulator was perceived to hold three complementary roles for safety culture development: being an enforcer, working as a partner (providing opportunities for licenseholders to improve beyond compliance), and acting as an advisor to regulated organizations. Analysis also showed that effective relationships in these roles, and which were central to influencing safety culture, were perceived to be characterized by professionalism, transparency and balance between formal enforcement and informal exchange. Theoretical implications to advance conceptualizations of safety culture as well as practical implications for risk regulators are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRisk Analysis
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Aug 2023


  • Safety culture
  • regulation
  • nuclear industry
  • safety perceptions


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