Safety culture is now recognized as being a significant influencer of safety outcomes within the workplace. However positively changing safety culture has proven to be a bigger challenge than expected in many organisations. If current strategies and initiative have failed to have the impact that was desired, perhaps it is time to discard them and explore other options.

Using a traditional safety model where the physical environment, systems of work, and personal behavior all interact to impact on safety outcomes, this paper takes a a unique approach to revamp and reorganize this model in a way which identifies the key drivers and outputs required. What emerges is a very practical and logical model that clearly shows the various strategies that should be focused on in the areas of safety control (safe environment), safety management (systems of work) and safety leadership (safe behaviours). With reference then to safety culture being an influencer of safety in general, and safety culture being directly affected by the safety attitudes of personnel, then safety leadership becomes the key driver for change.

Safety leadership is something that everyone already does. Effective and positive safety leadership on the other hand requires a safety thinking mindset, and then the application of leadership skills such as leading safe behaviours, coaching safety thinking and rewarding positive safety behaviors. In addition, some strategies that appear to be safety focused may in fact be harming safety culture. These include the recording and measurement of incident data, the use of safety slogans, and in particular the use of "zero harm" terminology. Organisation should consider discarding these strategies.


This discussion paper is intended to prompt further questions, particularly in relation to behavioural safety, safety culture and safety leadership. It is intended to create discussion within the occupational health and safety (OHS) field on these topics. Asking questions prompts thought, and I believe that the more people thinking about possible OHS solutions, then the more likely we are to find the next life saver. This is not a formally in referenced paper, although background readings are provided as references at the end of the paper. Instead, this paper seeks to reflect on current practice and recent history, by looking at some of the specific ideas and strategies that are being used within OHS, simply as a way to open up discussion and see what else may be possible.

Particularly, this paper is designed to create discussion around whether some of our current ideas and strategies in the safety culture area are serving both workers and industry in the best way. Some potential alternatives are of course explored, however these are just potential options and are therefore part of the thought provocation process. There can in itself be risk in trying to come up with the answer to our OHS challenges. This can put a lot of pressure on everyone involved to get it right. Is there an answer to OHS? Maybe! But perhaps a better question is simply to ask, what might one answer be?

So within the context of not trying to come up with the answer, but rather an answer, this discussion paper will look at:

  • How safety control, safety management and safety leadership can contribute to safety excellence;

  • What can safety leadership look like and why it is a critical factor for positive culture;

  • Why we need to continue to question our current OHS strategies;

  • Why incidents should never be a problem, event; and

  • Why we should not use safety slogans, in particular "zero harm".

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