The characteristics of a Safety Culture

[tweetmeme]What does an organizational culture that gives safety a priority look like?  There are several identified characteristics that go to make up a safety culture. Included in these are:

  • An informed culture*: one in which those who manage and operate the system have current knowledge about the human, technical, organisational and environmental factors that determine the safety of the system as a whole,
  • A reporting culture*: a culture in which people are willing to report errors and near misses,
  • A just culture*: a culture of ‘no blame’ where an atmosphere of trust is present and people are encouraged or even rewarded for providing essential safety-related information- but where there is also a clear line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior,
  • A flexible culture*: which can take different forms but is characterized as shifting from the conventional hierarchical mode to a flatter professional structure.
  • A learning culture*: the willingness and the competence to draw the right conclusions from its safety information system, and the will to implement major reforms when the need is indicated.

*Reason, J.T. (1997) Managing the Risks of Organisational Accidents

Taken together these five characteristics help form a culture of trust and of informed collective.  Of course trust is needed, especially in the face of assaults upon the beliefs that people are trying their best,  such as accidents and near-miss incidents which all too easily look like failures of individuals.  Informed people know what is really happening, lessening the chance of mistakes.  These and other critical elements help us to identify what beliefs are associated with a safety culture and will ultimately help reduce the frequency of accidents/incidents.