In recent years, the results of public inquiries into large scale disasters has highlighted the important role of the corporate atmosphere or 'culture' whereby safety is understood to be, and is accepted as, the number one priority (Cullen, 1990). This has led to many companies and industries giving high priority to improving their safety 'culture' without really knowing what it is, or whether or not they have achieved an improvement. Historically, this situation was caused by the lack of a universally accepted definition of safety culture or measurement methodology. Cooper (2000) offers a practical triadic model to overcome both of these issues to facilitate the measurement and quantification of safety culture.
Cooper's model asserts that safety culture can be quantitatively measured by examining the interactions between safety management systems, people's perceptions about safety and people's actual safety related behaviour, by using Safety Management System Audits, Safety Climate Surveys and Behavioural Safety Systems or qualitatively via Cultural Web focus group exercises (Johnson, 1992). The model predicts that an improvement intervention aimed at any one of these three components will exert a reciprocal effect on the other two (e.g. The quality of the company's safety management system will exert an effect on people's safety behaviour and their attitudes and beliefs about safety). For example, Townsend (2001) recently completed a study in heavy construction based on 700 million man-hours. He showed that, within the context of a structured safety management system (Organisation), the top 25% of safety performers habitually (behaviour) intervened to correct unsafe acts/conditions and praise safe working, and considered safety management a moral duty (attitude, beliefs and assumptions) to be taken seriously. In another study based on 110 million man-hours of petrochemical construction, it was identified that improving safety performance by 50% was associated with productivity improvements averaging 12% (Stewart & Townsend, 2000). This demonstrates that effective safety management can increase productivity as well as profitability (Levitt & Samelson, 1987). However, this is dependent on companies optimising the balance between the effort and resources they allocate to developing safety systems, promoting safe behaviour and encouraging positive safety values and beliefs. Using Cooper's reciprocal safety culture model and the Cultural Web (Johnson, 1992) this paper presents real world data to demonstrate how companies can identify exactly where best to focus their efforts and resources in pursuit of their safety goals.
The term 'Safety Culture' first made its appearance in the 1987 OECD Nuclear Agency report (INSAG, 1988) on the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Gaining international currency over the last 17 years, it is loosely used to describe the corporate atmosphere or culture in which safety is understood to be, and is accepted as, the number one priority (Cullen, 1990).