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Measurement of Rail Safety Culture - An Australian Sample

Hart, Izumi (2013) Measurement of Rail Safety Culture - An Australian Sample. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

Safety culture and safety climate have been a focus of heated debate for over three decades. Despite the general recognition of their importance in safety performance, many disparate views exist in their definition and theoretical framework. While some researchers stress the importance of clear distinctions between safety culture and safety climate, others seem to take a more flexible view using the terms interchangeably. One of the dominant definitions describes safety culture as “the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organisation’s health and safety management” (Health and Safety Commission, 1993). Safety culture is based on shared underlying beliefs, values and assumptions towards work and the organisation in general. On the other hand, safety climate is defined as organisational members’ shared perceptions about their work environments, safety policies and practices. Safety culture is regarded as stable and long-enduring, while safety climate can fluctuate in response to external factors (e.g. political and socio-economic change). Safety climate is regarded as a “snapshot” of the underlying safety culture. Proponents of the culture-climate distinction maintain that safety culture cannot be quantified and that safety climate can be used as a ‘surrogate’ measure of safety culture, for example, through self-report questionnaires. Other researchers take a more pragmatic approach and claim safety culture can also be measured. For the purpose of the current study, the definitional distinction is respected with the understanding that safety climate is an integral part of safety culture.

An industry-specific questionnaire was created, utilising retrospective and prospective approaches for evaluating safety perception and culture in the rail industry in Australia. This was achieved through: a) analysis of 104 rail safety accident investigation reports based on Reason’s Generic Error Modelling System; and b) adapting items from an instrument extensively used by a large multinational organisation for assessing the level of safety culture maturity based on Westrum’s typology. This facilitated a holistic approach, which addressed both technical/structural aspects and psychological aspects of safety as perceived by the employees. Six rail organisations in four jurisdictions across Australia participated, which yielded 241 responses. Factor analysis was conducted to identify safety perception and culture factors for further statistical analyses. Kruskal-Wallis ANOVA revealed significant differences among occupational groups in the evaluation of the organisations’ safety measures and culture. Predictive analyses were also conducted to investigate factors potentially associated with safety outcomes. Hierarchical regression analyses revealed that when the effect of occupational group was controlled for, a safety perception factor External Factors and a safety culture factor Reactivity – Blame Culture were significant predictors of the experience of near misses. Furthermore, when the effect of occupational group, tenure and near miss frequency were controlled for, Workplace Stress and Reactivity – Blame Culture were significant predictors of the frequency of safety defect reporting. The predictive values of both retrospective items (predominantly safety climate pertaining to employees’ perception about technical/structural aspects of safety measures) and prospective items (safety culture) were both validated. The implications of the results are discussed, particularly in terms of cultivating leadership attributes which embrace organisational learning.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Psychology
Supervisor: Hartley, Laurence and Fred, Affleck
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/22907
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