Current Psychology

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 5–17 | Cite as

Assessing the state of organizational safety—culture or climate?

  • Kathryn J. Mearns
  • Rhona Flin


This article explores the concepts of safety culture and safety climate in an attempt to determine which is the more useful for describing an organization's “state of safety.” From a review of the literature purporting to measure safety culture or safety climate, it is argued that, although the two terms are often interchangeable, they are actually distinct but related concepts and should be treated accordingly. The term “safety climate” best describes employees' perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs about risk and safety, typically measured by questionnaire surveys and providing a “snapshot” of the current state of safety. “Safety culture” is a more complex and enduring trait reflecting fundamental values, norms, assumptions and expectations, which to some extent reside in societal culture. The expression of these “cultural” elements, perhaps, can be seen through safety management practices which are reflected in the safety climate. Basically, measurement of safety culture requires in-depth investigation including an analysis of how organizational members interact to form a shared view of safety.


Safety Culture Safety Performance Current Psychology Organisational Climate Safety Climate 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. ACSNI. (1993). Human factors study group third report: Organising for safety. London: HMSO.Google Scholar
  2. Alexander, M., Cox, S., and Cheyne, A. (1995). UK Offshore Safety Culture. Paper presented at the “Understanding Risk Perception” Conference. Aberdeen, February.Google Scholar
  3. Ashforth, B. (1985) Climate formation—issues and extensions. Academy of Management Review, 18(4), 837–847.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brown, R.L. and Holmes, H. (1986). The use of factor-analytic procedure for assessing the validity of an employee safety climate model. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 18, 289–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blackmore, G.A. (1997). Leading performance indicators. Paper presented at the IADC North Sea Seminar, Performance Measures for Safety Management. Aberdeen, June.Google Scholar
  6. Cooke, R.A. and Rousseau, D.M. (1988). Behavioural norms and expectations: A quantitative approach to the assessment of organizational culture. Group and Organisational Studies, 13(3), 245–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cooper, M.D. (1998). Improving safety culture. A Practical Guide. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  8. Cox, S. (1996). Maximising performance: The impact of positive safety culture. Paper presented at the 5th Offshore Installation Managers Conference, April, Aberdeen.Google Scholar
  9. Cox, S. and Cox, T. (1991). The structure of employee attitudes to safety: a European example. Work and Stress, 5, 93–106.Google Scholar
  10. Cox, S. and Cox, T. (1996). Safety, systems and people. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.Google Scholar
  11. Cox, S. and Flin, R. (1998). Safety culture: Philosopher's stone or man of straw? Work and Stress (special issue on safety culture), 12(3), 189–201.Google Scholar
  12. Denison, D. (1996). What is the difference between organisational culture and organisational climate? A native's point of view on a decade of paradigm wars. Academy of Management Review, 21(3), 619–654.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Glick, W. (1985). Conceptualising and measuring organisational and psychological climate: Pitfalls in multilevel research. Academy of Management Review, 10, 601–616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Guest, D, Peccei, R., and Thomas, A. (1994). Safety culture and safety performance: British Rail in the aftermath of the Clapham Junction disaster. Unpublished paper.Google Scholar
  15. International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group. (1991). Safety culture. Safety Series No 75-INSAG-4. Vienna: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).Google Scholar
  16. Kaplan, R.S. and Norton, D.P. (1996). The balanced storecard. Boston: Harvard Business School.Google Scholar
  17. Kopelman, R., Brief. A. and Guzzo, R. (1990). The role of climate and culture in productivity. In B. Schneider (ed.), Organisational Climate and Culture. Oxford: Jossey Bass.Google Scholar
  18. Lee. T.R. (1995). The role of attitudes in the safety culture and how to change them. Paper presented at the Conference “Understanding Risk Perception.” Aberdeen, February.Google Scholar
  19. Lewin. K. (1951). Field theory in social science. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  20. Mead, M. (1934). Mind, self and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  21. Mearns, K., Flin, R., Fleming, M., and Gordon, R. (1997). Human and Organisational Factors in Offshore Safety. OTH 87 543. Suffolk: HSE Books.Google Scholar
  22. Mearns, K., Flin, A., Gordon, R., and O'Connor, P. (1997). Factoring the human into safety: Translating research into practice. Research Paper. Department of Psychology, University of Aberdeen.Google Scholar
  23. Moran, E. and Volkwein, J. (1992). The cultural approach to the formation of organisational climate. Human Relations, 45 (1), 19–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. OECD Nuclear Agency. (1987). Chernobyl and the safety of nuclear reactors in OECD countries. Paris: Organzation for Economic Co-operation and Development.Google Scholar
  25. Pidgeon, N. (1991). Safety culture and risk management in organisations. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 22, 129–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Pidgeon, N. (1995). Risk construction and safety culture in managing high-risk technologies. Paper prepared for International Workshop on Institutional Vulnerabilities and Resilience in Public Administration, Crisis Research Centre. Leiden, The Netherlands.Google Scholar
  27. Reason, J. (1997). Managing the risks of organizational accidents. Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  28. Rousseau, D. (1988). The construction of climate in organisational research. In: C. Cooper and I. Robertson (eds.) International Review of Industrial and Organisational Psychology. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  29. Schein, E. (1984). Coming to a new awareness of organisational culture. Sloan Management Review, 25(2), 3–6.Google Scholar
  30. Schneider, B. (1975). Organisational climate: Individual preferences and organisational realities revisited. Journal of Applied Psychology, 60, 459–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Schneider, B. (1990). Organisational Climate and Culture. Oxford: Jossey Bass.Google Scholar
  32. Schneider, B. and Gunnarson, S. (1996). Organisational climate and culture: The psychology of the workplace. In: J. James, B. Steffy and D. Bray (eds.), Applying Psychology in Business. Mass: Lexington.Google Scholar
  33. Turner, B., Pidgeon, N., Blockley, D., and Toft, B. (1989). Safety culture: Its importance in future risk management. Position paper for Second World Bank Workshop on Safety Control and Risk Management. Karlstad, Sweden.Google Scholar
  34. Turner, B. and Pidgeon, N. (1997). Man-made disasters (2nd Ed.). London: Butterworth.Google Scholar
  35. Williamson, A., Feyer, A-M., Cairns, D., and Biancotti, D. (1997). The development of a measure of safety climate: the role of safety perceptions and attitudes. Safety Science, 25 (1-3), 15–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Zohar, D. (1980). Safety climate in industrial organisations: Theoretical and applied implications. Journal of Applied Psychology, 65 (1), 96–102.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathryn J. Mearns
    • 1
  • Rhona Flin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of AberdeenOld Aberdeen

Personalised recommendations