I wanted to republish this article from last year after just reading yet another article about safety culture being “the way we do things around here” and therefore to change that, “Leaders need to walk the walk and talk the talk”. I have never been comfortable with the term “safety culture”, its more complicated than that. Organisational culture is what influences safety performance and behaviour and not the disconnected and isolated “safety systems” and mantras like “Zero harm”. Even the term “risk culture” may be more appropriate if we are looking for a better place to start. (see Building a Risk Culture)
Safety and Risk Culture Cloud
“Safety Culture” seems to roll very easily off people’s tongues and many safety people believe they are cultural change experts. But question them and you will find very little understanding or definition of what culture really is. Some think it is about compliance, some think it is about behaviour, others believe it is about systems, many have tried to simplify the meaning of culture to: “just what we do around here”. But it is so much more than that and we need to understand why people “just do that around here”.
Type “Culture” into our search box and you will find dozens of excellent articles about safety and risk culture. Some more recent ones include:
- Culture and Sub-culture Which is Safety
- Insights on Culture
- Some cultural and safety perspectives from South Africa
- Grade One Lesson in Culture
- Culture to Go – Delivering Results now
Or, you may prefer to watch this latest video by Dr Rob Long
This informal ten minute video below seeks to provide clarity around the nature and definition of culture. The video introduces the Human Dymensions ‘Culture Cloud’ as a way of understanding culture. This is a semiotic way of showing how complex yet understandable culture is. If we can deconstruct culture in this way, it can help understand why each component part of culture fuses together with other parts and, why the omission of parts misdirects people into thinking that culture is just about behaviours or systems. Once we understand the interconnectedness between language, systems, symbols and ethics we can then gain greater insight into ways we may influence culture, sub-culture or micro-culture. This understanding should help us also to better understand the ‘wicked’ nature of tackling risk and its cultural determinants.