Four Indicators of Toxic Safety Culture

Four Indicators of Toxic Safety Culture


When professionals get concerned about the safety culture in organisations there are a range of dispositions that indicate that things are not good. Recognising these indicators early is one of the best ways to ensure that problems are addressed. The combination of the following indicators in an organisation are a recipe for a toxic safety culture.


Cynicism is a psychological disposition that distrusts everything or selectively trusts only what it knows. A cynic has a lack of faith or hope in all, but self. Cynicism hides behind undisclosed values as only they can discern what is true or not. Cynicism understands truth as absolute and the cynic has the secret of what criteria is used to discern truth. Cynicism is an unhealthy disposition in any organisation because it elevates distrust in others and projects only trust in self. This is destructive for the fundamental of teams or groups as trust is essential in managing risk. If you have cynics in a culture they cannot be trusted and won’t trust others. Cynicism is listed in the DSM V as a neurosis.


Scepticism ought not be confused with a healthy sense of doubt. Organisations rely on a healthy balance between doubt and faith. If one doubts all things then nothing gets done. A healthy sense of doubt understands the importance of competing goals and knows that relationships are not worth risking for one’s own sense of truth. Skepticism is most associated with knowing nothing as compared to the cynicism, which knows everything. Scepticism infects a culture with so much doubt that the uncertainties of risk and human fallibility become a block to activity. The sceptic doesn’t know what to do except they know it is not what you are doing.


When a culture is infected with pessimism and negativity everything tends to just spiral down. Pessimism is fuelled by scepticism and cynicism and this leads to a very unhappy workplace. Pessimism extracts meaning and purpose out of the workplace and soon the meaningless of work affects risk taking and safety. Positivity on the other hand engenders effective working teams, morale and trust.

Double Speak

One of the cultural challenges for organisations is managing the gap between espoused-theory and theory-in-use. This is where the disposition of cynicism and scepticism are so toxic. Those who don’t understand the tensions of fallible leadership in human organisations expect perfection (also a disorder) and demand absolutes. When leadership or management makes mistakes it is the cynics and skeptics who are first on the persecution wagon because if they were in control there would be no mistakes. All organisations and leadership have gaps between what is said and what is done, it is when this gap is at extremes in contradiction that employees soon learn not to trust the words of leaders. Trust is the foundation of healthy culture.

More info about Safety and Risk disorders in this article:

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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