Safety culture is a new concept among safety professionals and academic researchers. Safety culture may be considered to include various other concepts referring to cultural aspects of occupational safety, such as safety attitudes and behaviours as well as a workplace’s safety climate, which are more commonly referred to and are fairly well documented.
A question arises whether safety culture is just a new word used to replace old notions, or does it bring new substantive content that may enlarge our understanding of the safety dynamics in organizations? The first section of this article answers this question by defining the concept of safety culture and exploring its potential dimensions.
Another question that may be raised about safety culture concerns its relationship to the safety performance of firms. It is accepted that similar firms classified in a given risk category frequently differ as to their actual safety performance. Is safety culture a factor of safety effectiveness, and, if so, what kind of safety culture will succeed in contributing to a desirable impact? This question is addressed in the second section of the article by reviewing some relevant empirical evidence concerning the impact of safety culture on safety performance.
The third section addresses the practical question of the management of the safety culture, in order to help managers and other organizational leaders to build a safety culture that contributes to the reduction of occupational accidents.
Safety Culture: Concept and Realities
The concept of safety culture is not yet very well defined, and refers to a wide range of phenomena. Some of these have already been partially documented, such as the attitudes and the behaviours of managers or workers towards risk and safety (Andriessen 1978; Cru and Dejours 1983; Dejours 1992; Dodier 1985; Eakin 1992; Eyssen, Eakin-Hoffman and Spengler 1980; Haas 1977). These studies are important for presenting evidence about the social and organizational nature of individuals’ safety attitudes and behaviours (Simard 1988). However, by focusing on particular organizational actors like managers or workers, they do not address the larger question of the safety culture concept, which characterizes organizations.
A trend of research which is closer to the comprehensive approach emphasized by the safety culture concept is represented by studies on the safety climate that developed in the 1980s. The safety climate concept refers to the perceptions workers have of their work environment, particularly the level of management’s safety concern and activities and their own involvement in the control of risks at work (Brown and Holmes 1986; Dedobbeleer and Bйland 1991; Zohar 1980). Theoretically, it is believed that workers develop and use such sets of perceptions to ascertain what they believe is expected of them within the organizational environment, and behave accordingly. Though conceptualized as an individual attribute from a psychological perspective, the perceptions which form the safety climate give a valuable assessment of the common reaction of workers to an organizational attribute that is socially and culturally constructed, in this case by the management of occupational safety in the workplace. Consequently, although the safety climate does not completely capture the safety culture, it may be viewed as a source of information about the safety culture of a workplace.
Safety culture is a concept that (1) includes the values, beliefs and principles that serve as a foundation for the safety management system and (2) also includes the set of practices and behaviours that exemplify and reinforce those basic principles. These beliefs and practices are meanings produced by organizational members in their search for strategies addressing issues such as occupational hazards, accidents and safety at work. These meanings (beliefs and practices) are...