The Concept of Safety
Culuture was introduced by Zohar (1980) and later by
International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group of International
Atomic Energy Agency during safety debate in their analysis
of Chernobyl Accident. With the thrust to HSE issues
becoming a focus area in the marketplace, on the shop
floors, in boardrooms and on negotiating tables in globalised
business parlance and production first but safety must
is becoming the motto, this concept has been embraced
by industries across the board irrespective of type,
nature, location and product. operations/services range.
The phrase safety culture consists simply of two words
Safety and Culture Whilst safety as the issue which
emanated with human in its center has now related to
prosperity and sustenance encompassing virtually all
aspects of human eneavor. This takes the concept of
safety as a synonym of toral loss prevention in industry
from the bounds of prevention of human loss, prevention
of human injuries and prevention of occupational dieases
to sustenance and this fact has increasingly been recognized
and accepted. However the term culture has been freely
used & misused. There is hardly any clarity of concept
between "tradition", and "culture".
In violently changing social and business environment,
definition of culture which could stand alone could
be; "integral sum of values which individuals,
group of individuals and the organisations at large
conceive & practise". The essence of "practice"
is "voluntary". Important aspect is that if
the values are only conceived and not practiced, they
become "redundant" and are without any "intrinsic
value". It is a natural order in human beings that
only conceived and not practised, they become "redundant"
and are without any "instrinsic value". It
is a natural order in human beings that only practise
enlivens society and the surroundings. Culture is an
integral concept. You don't expect person to be cultured
in work environment & a boor in house or vice versa.
Behaviour of personnel during mundane day to day situations
reflects the culture at the work place. Culture of an
organization can be described as mix of shared values,
attitudes and patterns of behaviour that gives the organization
its particular character. Thus as organisational habit
unmindful of who is going by is culture.
Safety culture could be described as the ideas, beliefs,
values and actions that all members of the organization
share about total loss preventions. A heavily loaded
definition of safety culture is; "assembly of characteristics
and attiudes in organsisations and individuals, which
estiablishes that as an overriding priority safety issues
receive attention, warranted by their significance".
However a mundane definition of safety culture is "when
an incividual does the right thing when nobody is looking
at him". Safety culture implies those policies
processes (formal, informal, spoken, unspoken,
practices, procedures) allowed (created,
permitted, expressed, implied) by management which influence
(shape, direct, limit, encourage) the attitudes
and actions (values, choices, decisions, relationships)
of people at work (workers, contractors, supervisors,
mangers) which impacts (positive, negative, neutral)
safety (plant, personel, property). Some say that It
is the way the work is being carried out in the organization.
Safety culture has two major components; organizational
framework & attitudes and response of individuals.
Universal features of safety culture are;
- Individual awareness
safety culture requires personal dedication and accountability
of all individuals engaged in any activity which has
a bearing on plant safety. It needs and all pervading
safety thinking, which allows asn'
- "Inherently questioning attitude"
- "The prevention of complacency"
- A commitment to excellence",
- Fostering of both, personal accountability
& corporate self regulation" in the safety
Producing safely is
becoming a minimum requirement for industrial establishments.
Further the recognition the safety performance is as
important has production / productivity, better quality
and overall improved performance, development of safety
culture is getting necessary phillip. In the evolution
stage of safety culture, the management has to take
the leadership role in setting the expections for safety
performance. When individuals from all domains of organization
believe genuineness of concern for their safety, these
beliefs flow throughout the organization with accountability
for safety at every level and the major initiatives
aimed at inculcating safety culture can be started.
Amalgamation of very simple concepts like; proactive
approach, ownership, continual improvement and excellence
is the starting point in development of Safety Culture.
Thus to inculcate culture there are three underlying
factor, the foremost being ownership, other being continual
improvement and third excellence in whatever we do.
Proactive approach & ownership of safety issues
will go much beyound mere compliance of statutes. In
the developmental stage of this process, every individual
should own the action taken to improve safety rather
than seeing them as imposed from outside. Mot important
single reason for accidents at work is "APATHY".
Critical point is not so much the adequacy of safety
plans as perception & belief that people hold about
them. Improvement may require a change of heart rather
than adoption of some standard rechniques. Though the
entropy always increases, determined efforts are needed
to be made to keep the increase at minimum. Ownership
can be attempted in the organizations by switching over
from system of comand, control and reaction oriented
to participatory and proactive, involving more people
and making it a movement.
Continual improvement as they say is journey and never
destination more so in this dynamic field of safety.
Even role modelling is not enough and they must always
look for continuous upgradation.
All these finally can be synthesized in our thought
process & deeds in achieving excellence, the underlying
factor shall be excellence in all that we do: all activities
must have a vision of achieving excellence.
These three principles to all in the organization will
start a journey of inculcating safety culture and it
is a certainty that the results will be there to be
seen and results themselves will sustain motivation
to achieve higher and higher.
The importanct aspects for promoting safety
culture emerging out of a survey of how company's manage
health and safety are:
- Commitment of top Management including
- The executive safety role of line
- Involement of all employees
- Openness of communication and
demonstration of care and concern for all the stakeholders.
While discussing about
various approaches for inculcating safety culture, the
stress has been laid on organisation learning and mutual
trust and confidence between management and work force.
The barriers which might impede the progress of an organisation's
plan to such a venture are conceived to be -
1. Expectation of simultaneous adoption of every conceivable
measure of the plan throughout the organisation.
2. The breadth of a large number of items likely to
be covered in this concept appears both abstract and
It has been therefore emphasized by experts that while
the outcome of well conceived plan to improve safety
culture of an organisation may be revolutionary, the
plans themselves should be evolutionary. Therefore,
a step by step approach is essential.
As per International Atomic Energy Agency Safety Publications,
development of safety culture in any organization seems
to pass through three stages of development. Each stage
can be identified by its characteristic displaying a
different awareness and receptiveness of behaviour and
attitudes of people involved with the working of that
organisation. These characteristics may be used by the
organisation to assess its progress in development of
safety culture and hence influencing their action plans
to achieve the position which the organization aspires
These three stages as defined are:
Safety is complance driven and is based mainly on
rules and reuglations. At this stage, safety is
seen as a technical issue, whereby compliance with
externally imposed rules and reulations is considered
adequate for safety.
Good safety performance becomes an organizational
goal and is dealt with primarily interms of safety
targets or goals.
Safety is seen as a continuing process of improvement
to which everyone can contribue.
In the first stage, improvements are often a result
of improving engineered safe guards and introducing
basic systems and procedures for control of hazards.
These are often driven by need to meet statutory
requirements. At this stage, the organization sees
safety as an external requirements and not as an
apsect of conduct that will help the organization
to succeed. The external requirements are those
of Governments, statutory or regulatory authorities.
It is the belief that at this stage that safety
is the responsibility of the management. There is
little awareness of behavioural and attitudinal
aspects of safety performance and no willingness
to consider such issues.
Safety is very mush conceptualized as merely a technical
issue at this stage, where compliance with rules
and regulations is considered adequate. Indeed most
of the organizations today are quite strong in the
In the second stage of development,
the organization will have developed safety vision
or mission and would have established clear processes
and procedures for their achievement. At this stage
it could be observed that the work is better planned
and consideraton of hazards is taken in procedures
/ plans. Even at this stage in some organizations,
safety is still imposed with limited involvement of
all. An organization at this stage perceives safety
performance as important even in absence of regulatroy
pressure. Although, there is growing awareness of
behavioural issues, this aspect s largely missing
from safety management methods which comprise technical
and procedural solution.
Safety performance at this stage is dealt with in
terms of targets and goals as other aspects of business
are. The organization begins to consider the reasons
of plateau in safety performance and is not averse
to embracing good practives in other organizations.
Third stage is befitting the words "achieving
is a continuing process". At this stage safety
related vision, goals and values are shared and safety
is in the blood stream of the organization. Poor practices
are un-acceptable and avoidable occurrences. This
is the self sustaining safety culture.
In the third stage, there is a strong emphasis on
learning, assessment, communication, management style,
efficiency and effectiveness. Here everyone in the
organization can contribute. Behaviour in organization
can be seen to be divided in the ones which enables
improvements and ones which acts as barrier to further
improvement. Consequently all understand the impact
of behavioural issues on safety. The level of awareness
of behavioural and attitudinal issues is hihg, measures
are being taken to synergise behaviour to safety goals.
Progress is continual and never stops.
Few practives to develop safety culture in
an organization are-
In depth analysis
Errors as learning
of safety issues
to analyse risk
Further it is emphasized that there
is a strong need to differentiate safety performance
from safety culture. There could be some shortlived
or even middle term examples of high safety performance
without safety culture but the converse will be rarely
ture. Few indicators of safety perfromance and safety
culture, both negative and positive are narrated below
to review one's performance of safety culture.
Examples of safety performance parameters
Breech of parameters
Number of plant
trips / forced shutdowns
Leakages / discharges
resulting in exposure to toxic chemicals Examples
of safety culture indicators (Positive)
and resolution of safety issues
% of audit findings
clearedu Number of critical employees retrained
Team work and
received and implemented.
repreated root causes
safety related defects
% of audit
findings pending to be cleared
procedures / operating instructions
updating plant and emergency documentation
with inculcation of safety culture, safety becomes
an organizational value. Safety culture though has
not been mandated in the statute, regulators and
enforcing agencies must also assist organizations
in strengthening safety culture. This can ensure
a continuous march towards excellence in safety
perfromance and near zeroing of loss.