Generative HSE
Safety beliefs, standards, leadership & performance


Insights from the BoK - Can Culture be Measured?

We continue our quest this week to consider each of the four key questions from the safety culture debate argued in the OHS Body of Knowledge (BoK). This week we look at the burning question 'can safety be measured?'. Again, it seems that the definition of 'culture' vs 'climate' is key here. Attempts to measure culture can be ill-fated if it's not understood at the outset that what is being measured are deeply held values and beliefs, which do not lend itself easily to a survey. In broad terms culture can be summarised by 'the way we do things around here'.

When looking at safety culture, we refer to the assessment model developed for the oil and gas industry by Westrum and Hudson. The model comprises of five 'maturity' levels that are based on increasing informedness and trust in the individual. The authors describe the  maturity levels as:

  • Pathological: who cares as long as we’re not caught

  • Reactive: safety is important, we do a lot every time we have an accident
  • Calculative: we have systems in place to manage all hazards
  • Proactive: we work on the problems that we still find
  • Generative: safety is how we do business round here.

As culture is generally aligned with broad organisational behaviours and mindsets, it's extremely difficult to measure and surveys have shown little predictive value. A more pragmatic approach to the measurement of safety culture was taken by Hale who cites that “it may not matter what the technique is that is used to make safety culture discussible. The main objective is to bring the basic assumptions sufficiently close to the surface that they can be examined and worked on.”

There does however seem to be merit in attempts to measure safety climate. A meta-analysis of data variance in safety climate research produced one or several higher management related and organisational factors that accounted for most of the variance. This is supported by Kines et al. who has validated the Nordic Safety Climate Questionnaire (NOSACQ-50).

The NOSACQ-50 consists of 50 items across seven dimensions, i.e. shared perceptions of: 1) management safety priority, commitment and competence; 2) management safety empowerment; and 3) management safety justice; as well as shared perceptions of 4) workers’ safety commitment; 5) workers’ safety priority and risk non-acceptance; 6) safety communication, learning, and trust in co-workers’ safety competence; and 7) workers’ trust in the efficacy of safety systems. This tool is recognised as the most effective way to measure safety climate. Generative HSE is an accredited and preferred supplier of the NOSACQ-50 here in Australia with numerous examples of successful safety climate measurement which has lead to important insights and ultimately improved safety performance.

So, while it's difficult to measure safety culture, the simple act of raising the topic can help drive improvements. There is however real evidence to support the merits and principles of measuring safety climate in an attempt to improve performance.