chapter  10
52 Pages

The 2000s and Onward

Safety Culture
WithSidney Dekker

Chapter 10 continues the focus on the sorts of things that can be found and fixed in an organization before they can create or contribute to an accident. Encouraging organizations to build a ‘good’ safety culture is the logical continuation of this trend. Safety culture has given organizations an aspiration, getting leaders and others to think about what they want to have rather than what they want to avoid. Researchers and practitioners became concerned with specifying what is necessary inside an organization and its people to enhance safety. A functionalist approach to safety culture sees and measures it as something that an organization ‘has.’ A culture can be taken apart, redesigned, and formed. Management can ‘work’ on parts of that culture (e.g., hazard reporting, procedural compliance). It assumes that values drive people’s attitudes and beliefs, which in turn determine their behavior. The interpretivist, or qualitative, approach defines culture as something that an organization ‘does.’ It considers culture as a bottom-up, complex, emergent phenomenon; greater than the sum of its parts; resistant to reductionist analysis, measurement, and engineering. For this reason, it cannot be trained and injected into individual minds. Critiques of ‘safety culture,’ discussed in the chapter, have been targeted at (1) the normative idea that some cultures are ‘better’ than others, (2) the implication that cultures are consistent and coherent rather than full of conflict and contradiction, (3) the avoidance of any mention of power in most models of safety culture, (4) the methodological individualism that sees culture as the aggregate of measurable individual attitudes, beliefs, and values, (5) the lack of usefulness of the concept in safety regulation and investigations, (6) the lack of predictive value, and (7) the fact that the ‘container term’ of ‘safety culture’ tries to say so much that it ends up saying very little.