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Evaluating the safety culture of a particular organisation poses some challenges. Cultural assumptions, which influence behaviour and, therefore, safety performance, are not always clearly observable. Edgar Schein presents a model of culture that helps in understanding how the concept can be assessed. In Schein’s model, culture is assumed to be a pattern of shared basic assumptions, which are invented, discovered or developed by an organisation as it learns to cope with problems of survival and cohesiveness.
According to Schein’s three-level model, an organisation’s safety culture can be assessed by evaluating the organisation’s artefacts, claimed values, and basic assumptions. On the first level of the model are the organisation’s artefacts. Artefacts are the visible signs and behaviours of the organisation, such as its written mission, vision, and policy statements. The second level consists of the organisation’s claimed or espoused values. Examples of claimed values might include mottos such as, “safety first” or “maintaining a blame-free work environment.” The third level is comprised of the basic assumptions of the individuals within the organisation. Basic assumptions are the beliefs and attitudes that individuals bring into the organisation or that are developed as a result of experience within the organisation. Examples of basic assumptions may include, “safety can always be improved” or “everyone can contribute to safety.” The organisation’s basic assumptions regarding safety culture are less tangible than the artefacts and claimed values. They are often taken for granted within the organisation that shares the culture.
Artefacts, claimed values, and basic assumptions are evaluated to identify the presence or absence of the characteristics that have been found to be important for the existence of a positive safety culture. These characteristics include:
Safety is a clearly recognised value in the organisation.
Accountability for safety in the organisation is clear.
Safety is integrated into all activities in the organisation.
A safety leadership process exists in the organisation.
Safety culture is learning driven in the organisation.
Schien has indicated that “attitudes” have been identified to evaluate the extent to which the organisation is able to, or likely to be able to attain these objectives. This methodology was originally developed with the support of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to assess the influence of organisation and management on safety performance.
The methodology entails collecting a variety of information that is largely based upon the perceptions of the individuals in an organisation.
Perceptions are often reality when it comes to influencing behaviour and understanding basic assumptions. Therefore, the data collected regarding individuals’ perceptions are critical to this type of assessment.
TransformationalSafety.Com has been very deliberate in selecting Edgar Schein's Cultural Map as the underlying construct for delivering the Integrated Safety Culture Assessment to Customers. We have done so as the Model is one of the few that takes a special interest in the artefacts of culture and specifically acknowledges the impact of leadership. It is the ideal cultural framework to compliment the developmental approach adopted within the philosophy of The Transformational Safety Improvement System.
Thirty two years since Bhopal, thirty years since Chernobyl, twenty eight since Piper Alpha and what have we learned?
Not much. After all, we have seen Texas City, Macondo, the Soma mine collapse, the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, and the list just goes on - all in the last ten years or so. Clearly what we have been doing has not been working.
The time has come to take some real responsibility, and put some science back into safety. The time has come to transform your safety culture. The cost of not doing anything shall be further death and injury.