Is Safety Culture Misleading?

April 01 2018
By: Terry L. Mathis

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review proposes that the term "safety culture" is misleading in that it suggests an organization has multiple cultures rather than just one. The point has some merit, and we mentioned that fact in our book on safety culture. However, the idea that an organizational culture is not multi-dimensional is equally misleading. Most organizations have many sub-cultures - by location, business unit, department, job description or other distinction. In many instances, the sub-cultures are much stronger than the overall organizational culture. This is especially true in organizations formed through mergers and acquisitions, which is a growing percentage of organizations.

Is Safety Culture Misleading? It is helpful to examine and perfect the safety elements of the overall organizational culture, and the term "safety culture" helps to clarify exactly what to look for. Yes, theoretically, cultures form around groups of people, not specific themes or issues. However, simply defining the overall idea of safety culture as a priority or focus is equally limited. A strong safety culture involves the leaders who set the priorities, as well as the workers who are impacted by those priorities.

Terry L. Mathis

Terry Mathis, Founder and retired CEO of ProAct Safety, has served as a consultant and advisor for top organizations the world over. A respected strategist and thought leader, Terry has authored five books, numerous articles, videos and blogs, and is known for his dynamic and engaging presentations. EHS Today has named him one of the '50 People Who Most Influenced EHS' four consecutive times. Business leaders and safety professionals seek Terry's practical insight and unique ability to introduce new perspectives that lead to real change.

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