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Concept of Safety Culture and its assessment indicators

The safety culture of an organization depends on how every people thinks and feels about health and safety and how this translates into their behaviour.

Concept of Safety Culture and its assessment indicators
Concept of Safety Culture and its assessment indicators

Safety culture can be defined as the shared attitudes, values, beliefs and behaviours relating to health and safety

Concept of Safety Culture and its assessment indicators

It is the outcome of the shared mindsets, beliefs, competencies, perceptions, and patterns of behavior in the organization which determines the management's commitment to health and safety management.

An organization may have either a positive or a negative safety culture.

Positive Safety Culture

An organization can be said with a positive safety culture,
  1. Where majority of the workers think and feel that health and safety is important, and everyone works and behaves safely because they understand the importance of self and others safety.
  2. There is a strong policy and clear leadership from the top management and passes through the whole organization from top to bottom.
  3. Managers think about the health and safety implications of their decisions and workers share the same view and work safely.
  4. People those are not behaving safely are in the minority and are likely to either leave, because they do not feel that they fit in, or possibly be dismissed for working unsafely.

Negative Safety Culture

An organization can be said with a negative safety culture,
  1. Where majority of workers think and feel that health and safety is not important and behaves unsafely, often because they do not know any better.
  2. They are poorly educated in health and safety and see it as unnecessary or unimportant.
  3. There is a lack of clear direction and leadership from senior management.
  4. Managers do not think about health and safety in their decision-making and so let other priorities dictate their actions.
  5. Safety-conscious workers are in the minority and they may leave because they do not like the organizational culture and feel unsafe in the work situation.

Negative impact factors on health and safety culture

Invisible leadership from management, Not demonstrating management commitment to health and safety, It meant management discussing the safety matter seriously in conference room but not demonstrating actual in field, existence of blame culture
Lower priority to health and safety than other business issues, frequent changes in organization or poorly communicated changes make uncertainty, etc are some examples of factors creating negative safety culture in the organization.

Safety performance may indicate organization’s positive/ negative safety culture. Less or No accidents & less ill-health indicates people are working safely and organizations have a direct influence on worker behavior ie. positive culture whereas lack of attention to health and safety, Low standards, poor behaviour and accidents may indicate negative culture.

Indicators to assess safety culture

It is very difficult to assess organization’s safetyculture directly because it is intangible and there is not a single feature that can be measured. As it partly defined as how people think and feel, their attitudes, their beliefs, and their priorities, these are intangible concepts and thus difficult to measure.

Indicators to assess safety culture
Safety Culture and its assessment indicators

Here are the examples of intangible factors that have a negative impact on health and safety culture.
  1. Lack of leadership from management.
  2. Presence of a blame culture.
  3. Lack of management commitment to safety, e.g. saying one thing in conference room and doing another.
  4. Health and safety receiving lower priority compare to other business concerns.
  5. Organizational frequent changes/ uncertainty.
  6. More staff turnover rates.
  7. Lack of resources
  8. Lack of worker participation and consultation.
  9. Interpersonal issues
  10. Poor management systems and procedures.
  11. External influences including poor ergonomics

So, rather than trying to assess the safety culture directly, better to assess it indirectly by considering multiple tangible outputs examined together that can be used as indicators viz.

Accident record: Accident frequency rate and severity rate – Compare with past years data or with similar type of industries
Absenteeism: High level of worker absenteeism indicates negate safety culture.
Sickness rates: Sickness rates can be used in similar way that accident rates.
Staff turnover: Low staff turnover may indicate a good safety culture, while high staff turnover may indicate the negative safety culture.
Compliance with safety rules: Positive safety culture influenced workers' behavior in a positive way and majority of workers want to work safely, so they comply with the safety rules and procedures laid down by the organization.
Complaints about working conditions: An organization with a positive culture may actively encourage complaints, but few serious ones may be made. Whereas negative safety culture may actively discourage workers from complaining, and many of the complaints made will be legitimate and serious ones.

The influence of peers: it can be measured in terms of number of training, education, involvement in safety-related projects, disciplinary actions, etc.


The safety culture of an organization can be improved only be demonstrating clear commitment by management with visible leadership.
Key to implement positive safety culture is involvement and cooperation of workers. Another way to create positive safety culture is Health and safety empowerment. But if it is not dealt properly, workers may come to resent instructions being imposed from above and start to actively oppose safety initiatives and improvements. This creates a negative culture. The most effective way to avoid this negativity and to actively encourage worker interest and ownership is to involve workers in the decision-making process, which is best achieved through worker consultation.
Assessment of safety culture is very difficult as it is intangible but can be assessed by setting certain indicators in terms of leading and lagging.

Related Articles:

What are the types of safety and hazard vs Risk?
Why is it necessary to maintain health and safety best standards?
Why are safety professionals most often not respected in the workplace?
Why should emergency exit signs be green, not red?
Barriers to Positive Safety Culture | Workplace Safety
Importance of contractor safety management and improve worker’s perception

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