Chapter 10.2: Organisational culture

Chapter 10.2: Organisational Culture

Since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 there has been an explosion of academic and organisational interest in safety culture. However, the body of safety culture literature harbours unresolved debates and definitional dilemmas. As a result, safety culture remains a confusing and ambiguous concept in both the literature and in industry, where there is little evidence of a relationship between safety culture and safety performance. This chapter investigates the concept of safety culture, and finds it to have limited utility for occupational health and safety (OHS) professional practice. Informed by a literature review, interviews with key stakeholders and focus group discussions, it concludes that workplace safety may be better served by shifting from a focus on changing ‘safety culture’ to changing organisational and management practices that have an immediate and direct impact on risk control in the workplace. The chapter identifies characteristics of an organisation that focuses on safety, and concludes by considering the implications for OHS practice.

Keywords: organisational culture, organisational climate, safety culture, safety climate, leadership, culture change

First year of publication: 2012

Current Version: 2012

Chapter 10.2: Organisational Culture

Table of contents

1 Introduction 1
2. Historical context 3
2.1 Evolution of the concepts of safety culture and safety climate 3
2.2 Safety culture in the literature 3
3. Definitional dilemmas 6
3.1 Safety culture 7
3.2 Safety climate 7
3.3 Organisational culture 8
4. Safety culture as the problem and the solution 8
4.1 Identifying a ‘positive safety culture’ 9
4.2 Framework for a cultural understanding of organisations 12
5 Reflecting on the literature 12
5.1 Four questions from the safety culture debates 12
5.2 General uncertainty in the literature 17
6 Opinions of key stakeholders 18
6.1 Views of researchers 18
6.2 Views of OHS professionals 21
6.3 Views of SME consultants 22
7 Analysis of evidence from the literature, interviews and focus groups 22
7.1 What does an organisation that focuses on safety look like? 24
8 Legislation 25
9 Implications for OHS practice 25
10 Summary 30
Key thinkers 30
References 30
Appendix A: Interviewees and workshop participants 36
Appendix B: Interview questions 38
Appendix C: Perspectives on organisational culture as they relate to OHS 40
Appendix D: The relationship between organisational culture and safety culture 53
Appendix E: Defining culture 56
Appendix F: Cultural dilemmas, tensions and unresolved issues 58
Appendix G: Clarifying the distinction between ‘culture’ and ‘climate’ 59
Appendix H: Accident investigation and culture 62
Appendix I: Clarifying the distinction between culture as an explanation and culture as a description 64
Appendix J: Clarifying the language of culture and exposing semantic dilemmas 65
Appendix K:What does an organisation with a good OHS culture looks like in practice? 67
Appendix L:Questions OHS professionals should ask about proprietary culture change programs 71
Appendix M: Exposing cultural myths 76

Director, Safety, Quality and Risk Management, Transdev Australasia

Rod is a highly qualified OHS professional with extensive commercial and operational experience across a range of industry sectors, including logistics, oil and gas, food manufacturing and retailing. Rod is passionate about continuing to advance the professionalism of safety and is an active member of several networking forums of likeminded safety professionals.

Denise Zumpe GDOHM, AssocDipOHS, CFSIA
Owner/Principal Consultant, SafeSense Workplace Safety

Denise is an experienced workplace safety professional, having worked in the field for 20 years. She has held management roles in local government, labour hire, trades and services, and transport, and has been a self-employed consultant/contractor for 7 years. Denise now specialises in working with small and medium businesses to improve OHS education and outcomes.

The OHS Body of Knowledge takes a conceptual approach which enables it to be applied in different contexts and frameworks.
To optimise its value for education and professional development learning outcomes have been developed for each technical chapter in the Body of Knowledge.
The learning outcomes as described give an indication of what should be the capabilities of an OHS professional; it is up to those developing OHS education programs, OHS professionals planning their CPD or recruiters or employers selecting or developing people for the OHS function to consider the required breadth vs. depth .
Please read the section on using the learning outcomes before delving into the leaning outcomes of the individual chapters.
The numbers against each learning outcome refer to the chapter number of the BOK download page. No learning outcomes have been developed for the chapters considered introductory or underpinning knowledge (that is chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1, .13, 14, 15.)