Evolution Of Safety Culture Management Essay

Organizational safety culture historically emanates from organizational climate. The latter was used to refer to underlying happenings and processes of the organization in 1970’s (Guldenmund, 2000). Later in the 1980’s, the term organizational climate was altered to organizational culture. Safety climate and safety culture tend to hold similar definitions but safety culture is seen to be more enveloping than that of climate. Climate is usually less deep than culture in the sense of the standing position of the organization (Glendon and Stanton, 2000). Thus safety culture can be defined according to Glendon and McKenna (1995) as the systematization of set principles that guide the health and safety aspect of an organization. However, climate refers to the belief towards safety within the organization (Guldenmund, 2000), that is, climate is most regarded as an indicator of safety culture that is perceived by group of employees at a given time (Cox and Flin, 1998).

Even though all employees are guided by the same procedures and policies, each one of them tend to see things in different perspectives according to the section of the organization they belong to (Payne, 1996). Cooper (1998) explained this difference occurs due to practices and customs, the specific risk levels which subject employees to certain level of safety management.

Years after, the term safety management got emerged to support safety climate and safety culture. But researchers failed to provide a relationship amongst these three themes. Kennedy and Kirwan (1998) proposed that safety management should be regarded as a formal system which is more documented towards controlling the hazards and assessing the risk present in organizations. Safety should form part of proper management (HSE, 2000) especially those organizations where safety is critical. A good safety management system is one that exists on paper that is more theoretical than one being perfect in practice. It is safety culture that influences the implementation and efficacy of the safety management system (Kennedy and Kirwan, 1998).


Following a nuclear accident at Chernobyl after the first analysis of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the term safety culture got introduced. After which, investigations had been carried out on the King Cross disasters, train crash and Piper Alpha inquiry and conclusions were reached that these problems did not occur because of policies and procedures in force but rather because of the safety climate and culture within the safety management system put in place (ACSNI,1993).

Thus, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, safety culture is that grouping of characteristics and approaches present in individuals and organizations which represent paramount priority (Reason, 1997). It can be seen from the above definition that all organizations do have a safety culture but only those organizations that take safety to be their prevailing priority attain safety culture.

Since there is no global definition for the term safety culture, a number of definitions have been managed since that period. Pidgeon (1991) defines it as being a reflection of positive mindset towards safety and apprehension. Workers’ attitudes towards safety are primordial for a positive safety culture (cox and cox, 1991).

However, the most used definition of safety culture is the one that the advisory committee of the Safety Nuclear Installations (ACSNI) developed (HSE, 1993). That is, accordingly, safety culture of an organization is result of values, mindset, point of view, norm, aptitude of individuals and teams which determine the obligation to, and the custom and expertize of, an organizational safety and health management. Organizations having positive culture are classified by proper communications, shared apprehension, mutual trust, awareness of the importance of safety and effective precautionary measures to be taken whenever the need arises.

Although there are many other definitions given to the word safety culture, there is a certain consensus to the culture being an intense standpoint to safety (Lee and Harrison, 2000).


As a matter of course, several means are being searched in order to improve safety at work that most of the time is based upon human failures. Following the major disasters of the king’s Cross, explosion of Piper Alpha as mentioned in the evolution part of the safety culture above, it was found that procedures and policies of the organizations that led to failures. Judge Fennel (1998), under the King’s Cross fire, ordered that there should be change in culture management throughout the whole organization. Upon the Piper Alpha explosion, Lord Cullen (1990) stated that it is important to create an atmosphere of collaboration where safety is well understood and taken to be the highest priority among the other essential priorities.

In the year 2001, Lord Cullen made his inquiry about another accident known as the Ladbroke Grove rail accident. Evidence was found that majority of accidents, near misses; incidents are product of unsafe acts due to lacking safety aspect of the management. He therefore, proved that there is a relationship between good business and proper safety. Furthermore, Lord Cullen stressed upon a proper leadership, commitment from senior management reflected till front line employees, appropriate communication of the objectives and aims, safety meetings, are primordial to achieve a good safety culture in the organization (Dyer, 2001).

Therefore, Pidgeon (1997) suggests that along with every single accident that occurs, factors of knowledge entitle organizations to be more prone to failures. It is crystal clear that susceptibleness does not lie only in individual errors, environmental factors, technological problems amongst others, but it is the indwelling policies, procedures and standards of the organization that are responsible to cause accidents in the long run.

Eventually, safety and health practitioners are now seen to be focusing more upon organizational values and practices that can pose specific level of risks to individuals, groups and the company itself; safe performance and contingency management in variegated and hazard conditions.


Pidgeon and O’Leary (1994) discuss about 4 factors that promote a good safety culture. These are management commitment towards safety, reasonable and flexible patterns and practices to handle hazards, non-stopping learning through practices, analyzing and monitoring systems, and knowledge and concern about hazards present at the work place.

According to Reason there are five characteristics that make up a safety culture. They are:

Informed culture.

It is one in which individual, technical, environmental and organizational factors by those who direct and promote the system that regulates safety as a whole.

Learning culture.

It is a culture in which safety values are well understood from underlying information system. In order to do this, the right competencies, the power to propend and willingness to amend changes wherever needed, is important.

Flexible culture

It is a culture that has shifted from the traditional bulky and fat organizational structure to a thinner and competent structure.

Just culture.

In a just culture, trust is anchored into the work place. Employees are supported and even sometimes recompensed for disclosing information relating to safety practices.

Reporting culture.

It is one in which employees are encouraged and are willing to disclose areas of hazards, errors, accidents, incidents and near misses.

Globally, these five characteristics altogether form a base of trust culture which is important to promote a safe and healthy work environment. Problems with accidents, incidents, near misses which are most of the time blamed upon individual failures can be altered. According to Reason, it helps in identifying the associated beliefs to safety culture and its respective components such as safety values, beliefs, common problem solving methods and common work practices.

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Safety culture together with safety performance depends on variables like psychology, behavior and situation. Figure 1 shows an Albert Bandura (1977) model of the relationship among these three variables.

Figure 1: relationship among variables.

The psychology variable is broken into three parts namely values, belief and safety attitudes; behavior is the product of acts and behaviors together with the abilities of employees; and, situation contains the structure, systems and processes of the organization together with type, nature and complexity of task being performed. Pessemier (2008) added that equipment, plants, tools should form part of the cycle since they do have a link with safety when employees operate them.

According to the reciprocal determinism theory, the three variables form independent variables that have a direct link with safety performance and individual employees. The ways the individual employees work have an impact on the organizational environment which in turn impact on their behavior in relation to safety practices. Eventually, the environment in turn impact on the safety policies and procedures. This phenomenon if perfectly understood by employers can help them determine whether practices have an impact on the working environment and whether safe practices and procedures are being adhered to (Horn, 2010).


Safety culture can range along a line from not really caring about safety than being caught in unsafe acts known as pathological; through calculative which means following blindly steps to perform a task; to finally generative, where safety aspect is regarded into each hierarchy of the structure of the organization ( Westrum, 1993; 1997; 1999; La Porte and Consolini, 1991). In later stages, safety culture can only be seen along this line. In the pathological and part of the calculative stages, safety is regarded as being formal and frivolous rather than being an intrinsic part of the total culture of how things run in the organizations.

In the pathological stage, it is clearly seen that safety is not viewed as something important for the organization and lots of initiative have to be taken in order to boost up safety. According to Westrum (1999), information is not disclosed as it should be, responsibilities towards safety are bypassed, failures are hidden, new ideas to involve safety are rejected and union among employees is discouraged.

The next stage is one in which the importance of safety starts being noticed after having met with several incidents. However management still has doubt about incidents, accidents and near misses are being caused due to carelessness, inattention, horse playing among fellow employees. Most of the time, signals are sent to the top of the hierarchy and often they are ignored. According to management, new ideas is thought to bring problems, responsibilities are being broken, bridging is still discouraged (Westrum, 1999)

Lastly, generative stage is where safety needs are assessed, recognized and taken care of. It is found that simple acts, conditions and having incidents or occurrence, cost the organization lots of financial cost as well as image deterioration. Quantitative risk assessments and cost-benefit analysis are conducted to test new ideas given. In this stage, information is accepted together with new ideas, failures are investigated and measures taken to stop incidents, bridging is encouraged and rewarded and responsibilities are shared to ensure safety (Westrum, 1999).

Information being passed

Development of trust

Figure 2: evolution of the types of safety culture (Hudson, n.d)


Subcultures exist in groups in the organization that share more or less same values of the whole organization together with their own culture of safety (Pidgeon, 1991; Hofstede, 1994; Mearns, 1999). The sole core factor that can distinguish between groups in an organization is culture (Harvey et al., 2002). They found that there are four types of culture within the organization, that is, power, role, individual or task.

Kao at al. (2008) found in their study that safety behavior is affected by subcultures. Their study is based on safety culture in petrochemical plants found in China. According to their study, positions that employees hold at work, the experience they have, work safety and satisfaction of health environment and risk perception they hold, have a significant relationship. In another study of nuclear power station of the United Kingdom, Lee and Harrison (2000) analyzed components such as age, gender, type of task and shift working. They also found that workers older in age are more safety conscious than those of younger age. In a study of Horn (2010) on assessment of organizational safety culture in fire stations, depending on ranks officers hold within stations their subcultures are different.

However, Harvey’s (2002) opinion is that there exist groups that have different views in relation to the entire organization and many sources can influence safety culture in organization. Safety culture is stable and arranged in such a way that it cannot be changed or reshaped in short lapse of time.

It should be taken into account that among all the definitions relating to safety culture, evidence proves that talking in terms of culture in groups is more meticulous than organizational culture. Other studies, researchers have analyzed that measuring safety culture among identified groups is more fruitful in the sense that it can be easily demonstrated how safety is transferred from one to another, what are the different mindset to danger, the compliance towards safety and how hazardous process are taken up to ensure safety culture (Chute, 1995; Beck, 1999; Clark, 1999; Wong, 2005).

Harvey et al. (1999), in their study established two different safety cultures in the nuclear industry namely management’s safety culture that consisted of both professional and technical workers, and fellow employees’ culture. The difference highlighted in management safety culture is one in which problems of communications, risk taking attitude and other issues could cause potential problems. However, they did not conclude that culture a being undesirable rather they felt that the factor in bridging the gap between management and fellow employees was communication.

On the contrary, McDonald et al. (2000) studied safety culture in aircraft maintenance organizations. Their study found different subculture between management and technicians. Technicians held themselves being responsible to ensure safety at the work place and they used their skills and knowledge in order to carry out this responsibility. On the other hand, management was sure that technicians would be following the policies and procedures as they were told to. Management agreed that if the technicians would follow these policies and procedures, the production of good and services would certainly be late. Such a different perception encouraged the technicians to work in different ways as to how they should. These studies show that subculture viewed in groups is different than overall organizational safety (Collinson, 1999). The investigation on the Piper Alpha problem discovered that lack of communication between the two different job shifts within the organization was the problem although there was a permit to work and hand-over shift (Mearns et al.,2001).

However, subcultures can prove to be positive in safety culture in bringing in front different views and perspectives to problems relating to safety through communication on risks (Mearns et al., 2001). Development of subcultures among employees working in a certain organization might be experienced while working in different conditions. Collinsons (1999) found in his study that terms and conditions of permanent and contractual workers were marketed unsatisfying. An example given was the contract workers were not granted sick leaves or holidays, were asked to perform the most hazardous and strenuous work. This type of working caused a certain gap between the organization and the safety culture, views about safety underwhelmed the productions demand which routed towards more accidents on their part.

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Within all the different definitions of safety culture like ASCNI (1993), safety is regarded from different set of values and beliefs among workers. After all, having subcultures in an organization shows an absence of a tenacious safety culture. Therefore, before planning to design, change or amend safety culture programs in large organization, it is important to take care of the subcultures in place, how they behave and the relationship they hold (Pidgeon, 1998).

Generally, surveys to measure safety culture in organizations brush off the beneficence that subcultures have on the perceptions of workers towards safety. The surveys do not bring out the challenging plans among managers, supervisors and employees across the organizations. The issue is that subculture is that taxed factor which is misled in terms of social deviance. Groups across the organization become more versatile in looking at risk in differently since they are to be inveigled by the task they perform. It can be discussed that subcultures do provide key connection of different hazards and risk experienced by workers within groups (Gadd, 1998).


Organizations with positive safety culture are identified in terms of effective communication (Glendon and Mckenna, 1995). Such type of communication is formed on beliefs on the emphasis of safety, collective trust and assurance in the preventive measures. Effective communication leads to combined objectives and efficient means in order to achieve them (Ryan, 1991; Glendon and McKenna, 1995; Gadd, 1998).

HSE (2000) advances that managers can try to communicate with their employees in ways like; firstly, managers can convey the importance of safety and health through visible behaviors by making regular tours to view health and safety around work areas, regularly participating in safety and health committees, investigate deeply into accidents, incident, ill health and near misses. As a result, when employees see and understand how their seniors view safety and health, they will in turn change and adapt their own behavior. Therefore, managers can determine negative behaviors that prevent safety culture’s existence in the organization. Secondly, through written communication, in making use of statement of policies and safety and health responsibilities and roles, standards of performance, risk assessment findings and informing control measures put in place, managers can effectively communicate to their employees. Thirdly, having face to face interactions between managers and employees enable employees to speak freely, give their views and get themselves involved in safety and health of the organization. Employees should be encouraged to voice out their opinions to their managers while the latter perform safety tours, during planned meetings and health and safety committees. In this way, the managers will be able to see the commitment of their employees to safety and health.

The inquiry of Cullen (2001) on Ladbroke Grove suggested that two way communications is the role key for management to stress the importance of safety. The inquiry found that effective communication makes employees feel valuable. This in turn fosters trust and respect between management and employees.


In order to maintain a proper safety and health environment in organizations, safety performance should be measured regularly. Measurement of performance can be done intensely or reactively. In intense measurement of safety performance, organizations perform the monitoring before the happening of an accident, incident, near misses and ill health. It includes measures like safety audits, inspections of work areas, machineries, plants, environment as a whole and finally health examination. Reactive measurement is done immediately after an accident, ill health or dangerous near misses in order to identify the causal factors that resulted in organizational damage or injury (HSE, 2000).


To investigate into near misses enable organizations to learn from errors and thereby prevent future accidents. The investigation deals with scrutiny of happenings which may cause accidents. Such investigations are rarely anticipated in many industries like civil aviation. In civil aviation, what contributes towards organizational learning and improving safety, eminently in the air, is observation of occurrence of near misses (Pidgeon, 1998). In order to encourage employees to report occurrences, all depend on the broad mindedness of the organization with a culture of no-blame. The no-blame culture and openness are found rare in industries like aviation and nuclear ones because of which near misses occurrence are often happening.

In a study conducted by Madsen (2001) on Swedish and Denmark air traffic control, it was observed that the former has a good reporting and openness culture whilst Denmark does not, because in Denmark only, inattentiveness, neglectfulness and unsafe acts are punished (Pidgeon, 1998). After the happening of a mishap, most of the time management desire to find a wrongdoer. Even accusation on others can be a positive safety facet in having authority without the need of accountability for limitless rupture of safety which can lead employees to omit safety systems. Though identifying the wrongdoer is like to avoid a blaming process rather than promoting openness. The answer to a situation is not to blame, rather there should be an establishment between the offence and the mistakes that can be accepted since some degree of accountability and responsibility is needed (Pidgeon, 1998). Madsen (2001) proposed that barriers should be established and just- culture should be encouraged. It would distinguish between behaviors that are acceptable or unacceptable and differentiate between gravity of negligence together with intentional and non-intentional acts.

Learning from incidents, accidents and near misses, identifying unsafe acts and unsafe condition and to deal with them effectively, promote the organizations to become learning organizations (Cullen, 2001).


Dimensions to safety culture are measured outcomes relating to safety such as accidents and injury causal information (Glendon and Litherland, 2001). Variables that a company’s attitudes towards safety and the safety precautions can be compared to its rate of accidents are training in safety and proper housekeeping (Varonen and Mattila, 2000). Organizations bearing a higher rate of safety culture have fewer accidents. In a study of Sawacha et al. (1999), they found that poor level of safety performance was correlated with payment of bonuses and illegal money while a good safety performance was related to top management approach to safety, opinion towards personal safety, work place tidiness and well planned. On the contrary, these ideas were discussed by Glendon and McKenna (1995) that informational accidents result from poor safety performance due to carelessness or unknowing the risks and exposure to these risks at the workplace. For them to collect data of accident is not an appropriate method to measure safety culture since the data can omit exposures to different risk of workers, some can under-report or over-report the accident which lead to insensitive reports. What it can do is to measure outcome rather than the risk. Any decrease in rate of accident may not be only due to culture of safety (Cooper, 2000).

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In order to measure safety performance, Glendon and Litherland (2001) made use of behavior sampling, that is, they randomly view each employee behavior to wearing of personal protective equipment and when doing manual handling and made use of professionals to evaluate the amount of unsafe work behaviors. However, they did not find a relationship between safety culture and safety performance. Safety behavior can be a component to safety culture rather than being an indicator in itself.

Cox and Cheyne (2000) included indicators if behavior in their safety assessment together with interviewing and analyzing attitudes of employees. To investigate how many accidents, incidents and occurrences occurred and their respective nature is secondary than directly observing employees. Indicators of behavior can help promote an overall picture of the safety climate present in organizations, despite the fact that to find a correlation between dimension to safety culture and safety behavioral measures is transitory (Glendon and Stanton, 2000).


Organizational culture is known to promote a good safety and health performance if properly managed. The culture can either take a positive or a negative form. The signs of negative culture include firstly, disregarding safety procedures that have been put to perform routine tasks; secondly, workers fail to comply with systems designed to implement safety and health at the work place and thirdly, management outweighing cost of production rather than safety. These conditions of a poor culture are difficult to be noticed since employees are prone to hide happenings, unsafe practices and violate rules and regulations (Brazier, 2007).

On the other hand, signs that shows positive and healthy culture are management commitment to safety at all levels of hierarchy of the organization, a high understanding of health and safety, a well-defined achievable culture, safety outweighing cost of production, extreme quality and quantity of goods and services, a challenging and achievable objective, investment which is clearly noticed being made to maintain a good health and safety work place environment, good communication from top management to firstly level of the organization and vice versa, a just and fair work system and last but not the least involvement of all elements of an organization towards health and safety (Brazier, 2007).


With the advent of global market, in order to remain on the competitive edge, organizational structure has to change drastically. According to the Us Fortune (Cameron et al., 1991), around 1000 organizations have undergone downsizing, 80 percent managers had restructured their organizations in the last years (Wheatley, 1992). Management structures have become thin and flat with a proper number of managers in the decreased hierarchy (Hecksher, 1995). The new restructured organization now consists of three major types of employees like core workers, who are employed on a permanent basis, long termed contract; contingent workers, who are employed on a temporary basis, short termed contract; and contract workers, who are project based (Handy, 1991).

Contingent workers are those who workers who are not certain whether their jobs are sequential or evolving, overbearing satisfaction the way the job is done by the individual worker and the organization as a whole (McLean Parks et al., 1998). For organizations having this type of employees, safety culture bears a certain consequence. The nature of the temporary contract, having less opportunity to build up trust relationship and reduced security, makes the work place unstable. On the contrary, Ouchi and Wilins (1985) said that this nature of work is positive to maintain control of cultures. However, it is argued that contingent work comprises of insecure job, lack of control and willingness and this leads to decreased job satisfaction and commitment towards the organization (Beard and Edwards, 1995). It means that these attitudes have a negative effect on morale of employees, productivity and safe working performance. Holcum et al. (1993) and Lee (1998) have found in their studies that poor job satisfaction caused the highest number of accident, and Morrow and Crum (1998) found that job satisfaction, commitment and involvement towards the organization have directly proportional relationship with safety culture.

Cox et al. (1998) studied safety attitudes of contingent, core and temporary workers of manufacturing industries and found that temporary workers had negative attitude towards safety aspects compared to that of the core workers. On the other hand, the contingent workers had no social interaction and this lead to comparison of level of inputs and outputs to that of core workers who most of the time had same task but granted higher salary, higher benefits, job security (Rogers, 1995). This difference leads to different psychological aspect (Rousseau, 1989; Rousseau and McLeans Park, 1993). The difference in psychology of contract of contingent and core workers is that the contract for the contingent workers is less dynamic, changeable, socio-emotional aspects not catered and more business minded (McLeans Park et al., 1998).

As per the study made by Clarke (2002), evidence proved that restructuring of organization could cause mistrust between managers and core workers thereby disrupting the safety culture that existed. This displacement of trust of the core workers could further be destroyed when contract and contingent workers are integrated in the organization thereby eroding the little safety culture that existed. Evidence showed that contingent workers have negative mind sets towards safety of the organization and are less committed to the organizations. While employees understand the importance of safety concern, their loss of confidence in management and belief in systems including safety make them hide from reporting incident.

Safety culture is an important social fact since perceptions of individuals within a team are found to be interdependent. Safety culture mirrors point of view, beliefs, conceptions and ethics that workers have towards safety (Cox and Cox, 1991). Contingent workers who are employed on a temporary basis can be hackneyed by those workers employed permanently and assigned differently even if they are doing practically the same task. The idea behind is that these contingent workers will not remain in the organizations for long period of time. Where both contingent and permanent workers are required to work in groups, the former may hamper group works. This is because contingent workers behave negatively to changing organizations due to culpability, compulsion and lack of own termed benefits (Pearce, 1998).

Rousseau and Libuser (1997) discuss that having a team of contingent together with permanent employees altogether, may alter communication stream between management and the fellow workers. Notably when workers of temporary term have been manipulated in order to avoid industrial problems and guide towards noticeable inequality between them which in turn result in lack of communication, cooperation and carelessness. Accordingly such situation normally lead to high accidents thereby decline in safety culture. Thus at group level, contingent workers’ presence surely cause mistrust in management and impairment of morale. It is not because temporary workers have negative attitudes or have less safety concerns, but, it is because of hurdle that prevents contract and contingent workers to work in teams.

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