Safety culture and safety climate are related yet different concepts, the use of which could be confusing. This blog will further explain the distinction in these two concepts and their implications for safety leaders.
Safety culture embodies “the deeply held, but often unspoken, safety-related beliefs, attitudes and values that interact with an organization’s systems, practices, people and leadership to establish norms about how things are done in the organization,” according to the Center for Construction Research (CPWR). In a strong safety culture, safety comes first and is embedded as a fundamental value of an organization. Companies that focus on building a strong safety culture are taking the proactive approach to ensure productive and safe jobsites, as opposed to reactively address the issue after an incident has happened.
According to the 2016 SmartMarket Report, safety culture is measured by seven groups of leading indicators:
- Management Commitment to Safety and Health
- Safety and Health Are Fundamental Company Values
- Accountability on Projects for Safety and Health
- Worker Involvement in Jobsite Safety and Health
- Supervisory Leadership on Safety and Health
- Company Communication About Safety and Health
- Owner Involvement in Project Safety and Health
On the other hand, safety climate refers to “managements and workers’ shared perceptions of how well a company’s stated safety policies and procedures match real conditions on the jobsite,” according to the 2016 SmartMarket Report. Occupational Health & Safety (OSH Online) defines safety climate as “the collective view of safety within an organization,” that drives employees’ action or inaction regarding to safety. Safety climate is measured by perception surveys and interviews, and often significantly influenced by recent events. Thus, though safety climate is not as deep-rooted and stable as safety culture, safety climate could reflect the health of safety culture and immediate things that need to be corrected to prevent accidents and losses.
According to Dr. Linda M. Goldenhar, Ph.D., Director of Research and Evaluation at CPWR, in her literature review summary, "Understanding Safety Culture and Safety Climate in Construction: Existing Evidence and a Path Forward," major factors identifying safety climate include: “management commitment, employee involvement and/or empowerment, safety communication, safety competence, balance of safety and production, and supervisory and coworker safety support, among others.”
Many of the indicators stated above for safety culture and safety climate overlap, but safety climate can show where the perception gaps about a company’s safety culture exist. In an interview with Professional Safety, Dr. Goldenhar stated, “Which term someone uses is probably less important than knowing where to target needed change to improve overall safety performance. Do corporate safety policies need to be improved (culture) or is it a matter of how good policies are implemented on the jobsite (climate)?”
To learn more about safety culture, the seven groups of safety culture indicators stated above, the benefits of a strong safety culture and how to build one, join Donna Laquidara-Carr, Director at Dodge Data & Analytics, and author of the 2016 SmartMarket Report: Building a Safety Culture, and Paul Colangelo, National Director of Compliance Programs at ClickSafety in our on-demand webinar. Register now: