What is meant by safety culture?

What defines an organisation’s safety culture?

Safety culture is not a difficult idea, but it is usually described in terms of concepts such as ‘trust’, ‘values’ and ‘attitudes’. It can be difficult to describe what these words mean but, in simple terms, a safety culture is defined by what people in an organisation do when they think no-one is watching - rather than what they say.

The Safety culture sprectrum information sheet below summarises the typical characteristics of various safety culture types.

Safety culture spectrum - information sheet - 448 Kb

This information sheet shows the safety culture spectrum and outlines how all operations should aspire to be resilient.

All workplaces should aspire to have a resilient safety culture. Consultation, communication and participation are critical to make the changes required to achieve this.

Within an organisation, even on a single operation, there can be pockets of different safety culture types. Most workplaces will be rule followers or have robust cultures, but some will have vulnerable attributes while others show signs of enlightenment.

How can human factors affect performance?

Understanding how human factors influence human performance is increasingly important as a management aid. There are many reference books and websites on the topic but it can be difficult to comprehend the influence in the workplace of particular human factors. Two sources of useful information are described below.

UK HSE guidance

The UK-based Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has an extensive array of online guidance on human factors. The HSE focuses on topics such as:

  • managing human failures
  • staffing
  • fatigue and shiftwork
  • safety critical communications
  • human factors in design
  • procedures
  • competence
  • organisational change
  • organisational culture
  • maintenance, inspection and testing.

UK Energy Institute guidance

To improve industry's understanding of key human factors in the workplace, the UK-based Energy Institute’s Human and Organisational Factors Committee has produced a resource pack of briefing notes that is available to download or purchase.

The briefing notes provide definitions and introductory discussions of the human factors most pertinent to the workplace. There are also:

  • checklists of questions to gauge whether an organisation has a problem related to dealing with human factors
  • guidance on what the organisation should do to address each human factor issue
  • both ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ case studies (illustrating both consequences and potential solutions)
  • potential performance indicators
  • further reading lists.

Related information

Below is the list of documents that you may find useful.

Positive safety culture - pamphlet - 211 Kb

The Positive safety culture - pamphlet is a checklist that supervisors and workers can use to maintain their wariness at the workplace.

The following presentations covering topics related to safety culture can be downloaded to use at toolbox meetings.

Benefits of good self-regulation (2012) - 920 Kb

This toolbox presentation explains the benefits of good self-regulation, what it means and the relationship between government control and self-regulation.

Developing resilient safety and health cultures (2011) - 402 Kb

This toolbox presentation contains information on how to develop resilient safety and health cultures.

Effective consultation (2008) - 1873 Kb

This toolbox presentation contains information on how to consult effectively and ways to resolve issues that may arise.

Raising and solving safety and health issues at the workplace (2011) - 2873 Kb

This toolbox presentation covers appropriate ways to raise and solve safety and health issues in the workplace.

Regulator’s role in supporting positive cultural change to enhance safety management in mining (2013) - 14631 Kb

This toolbox presentation explains the regulator's role in supporting positive cultural change to enhance safety management in mining.

Resources Safety and industry working together to improve safety and health outcomes (2012) - 4083 Kb

This toolbox presentation explains how resources safety and industry are working together to improve safety and health outcomes. This is through teamwork, audits and focus groups.

Safety culture - importance of incident reporting (2008) - 4996 Kb

This toolbox presentation contains information about the importance of incident reporting, discussion points, compliance and communication.

Safety culture - Part 1: Integrating human factors and safety management systems (2007) - 1044 Kb

This toolbox presentation contains information for integrating human factors and safety management systems explains a systems approach to human error management.

Safety culture - Part 2: What does safety culture mean for mining? (2007) - 2387 Kb

This toolbox presentation explains what is safety culture in Australian mining, active failures, changing the safety culture and fallibility management.

Safety culture - Part 3: Safety culture in practice in Australian mining (2007) - 865 Kb

This toolbox presentation examines the issues that face the Australian mining industry in terms of building safety cultures in the workplace, and what it means in practical terms.