Safety culture development
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Safety culture development

Safety culture development is complex, and slow. Organisations (and indeed industries) will typically be at different levels of safety culture development across different facets of their operations, due to location conditions. This is important to recognise as safety culture development requires certain key elements to be in place, and working reasonably well, before the next steps can be taken – trying to run before you can walk nearly always ends in frustration and failure.

This has some significant messages:

• Safety interventions need to be appropriate to the prevailing culture or they are very likely to fail (ie. management commitment to health and safety improvement is not ‘felt’ by the organisation).

• Safety culture development can be thought of in terms of an evolutionary ladder – key elements need to be in place before the next steps can be taken. Focus on the few key enablers that will move the culture towards the next level – do not attempt to address all the issues that have been identified; keep things simple and to not pursue things that are not working.

• A proactive first step an organisation can take to gauge the ‘maturity’ (or ‘health’) of its ‘systems’ is to undertake a safety culture assessment. This will enable existing strengths to be identified and built upon in order to move the culture to the next level.

• Even when all the key elements/components are in place and working well, safety performance can ‘plateau’ or even decline. Therefore sustained focus is required to ensure continuous improvement. Attitude surveys that measure the ‘what people feel’ dimension of organisational safety culture (such as the self-assessment questionnaire in this toolkit) are only a starting point; they need to be followed up with in-depth discussions with staff to understand what is driving the responses, and supplemented with detailed examination of company data, safety systems and objective measures of actual ‘safety behaviours’.