It is common knowledge that safety culture or safety climate is an important factor in achieving excellent safety performance. Despite the frequent citation of culture as an important factor, few people really understand what it is, how to measure it, or how to influence it.

Culture is commonly defined as the shared beliefs and values of a group. When it comes to safety, culture reflects people's shared perceptions about how things work - in practice, not in theory. Getting to the cause of people's perceptions is the challenge.

Often culture is measured by asking general, and sometimes vague, questions intended to sample widespread perception of the organization. For example:

"Do you feel that your supervisor supports the stated safety goals of the organization?"

"Do you believe the organization puts adequate resources toward its safety goals?"

"How well do you think the current safety program works?"

"Do you believe the company balances safety and production pressures properly?"

The responses to these types of questions can be informative, and changes in replies to these questions over time can be indicative of important change. But finally this type of data is inadequate for driving widespread safety performance improvement that is both dynamic and sustainable.

In order for an organization to function effectively, it must know and understand the organizational factors that correspond to safety. Fortunately, organizational psychology has identified and statistically validated specific organizational characteristics that are underlying causes of safety performance.

This paper describes three factors of organizational effectiveness that underlie safety performance:

Organizational Factors such as procedural justice, leader-member exchange, management credibility, and perceived support.

Team Factors such as teamwork and workgroup relations.

Outcome-Specific Factors such as organizational value for safety, upward communication and approaching others.

Further, this paper explains how each factor can help you get at the root of the problem and tell you whether it is a stand-alone problem or a symptom of a bigger problem. When analyzed properly, these factors can help you gain a clear picture of your organization's current functioning level and what to do to raise the level of functioning in those areas that need improvement. By acquiring a clear picture of the organization's current functioning level, managers can plan and implement corrective interventions to improve safety performance.

First, What Does a Positive Safety Culture Look Like?

More and more organizations are talking about and striving for a positive safety culture, sometimes described as a zero-incident or injury-free culture. Many organizations have heard these phrases, have understood their meaning, and have seriously taken on these objectives. Some have clear-cut visions of what a zero-incident safety culture really looks like. More often the vision is somewhat blurred, but the general idea is quite appealing. If you ask leaders and managers what they mean by zero-incident safety culture they will say they mean an organization that has a high value for safety and that has very low incident frequency rates.

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