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Integrated safety culture

Different types of safety culture



Four broad categories of safety culture can be identified, based on the weight that managers and employees assign to safety in their decision-making process:

The types of safety cultures according to Michel Simard



Safety cultures
In any given company, a combination of several types of safety culture can usually be found, rather than just one.

Regulatory constraints and external audits mean that most high-risk companies have developed a safety culture that leans strongly towards the “bureaucratic”, with heavy investment in processes and HSE experts, technical safety, procedures, etc.
Fatalistic safety culture
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In a fatalistic safety culture, people are convinced that it isn’t possible to influence the level of safety; accidents are perceived as “a stroke of bad luck” or as acts of god.

“What did you expect us to do? We couldn’t know that the pipe would break, it was just bad luck”

Shop-floor safety culture
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A shop-floor safety culture occurs when management does not place much importance on safety, but sharp-end workers develop their own prudent work practices to protect themselves against the risks associated with their occupation. These practices are perfected and get passed down from one generation to the next (one example is miners taking canaries down into the mines).

“I’ve been working for 20 years, you can’t tell me how to manage my risks”

Bureaucratic safety culture 
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A bureaucratic safety culture develops when the company and its managers become responsible for the level of safety . It introduces a formal safety system, takes safety into account in investments, and relies on the different echelons of management to pass down orders and ensure they are followed. Safety measures developed in this top-down fashion may conflict with standard work practices within some occupational groups. Sharp-end workers may be reticent about implementing the requirements of the formal system or may have trouble doing so.

“Safety is the job of the experts, we’re just told to apply the rules and procedures.”


Integrated safety culture
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An integrated safety culture also aims to achieve a high level of safety, but results from the shared conviction within the organisation that no single person holds all of the knowledge necessary for ensuring good safety performance. The prevention of major accident hazards requires the combination of a wide range of skills; it requires information to be circulated and evaluated, and the concern for safety should be reflected in all decisions at all levels, in all the company's processes.

“We all contribute to safety. I feed information back so that the organisation and managers can draw up rules and procedures that are relevant to what happens on the ground.”

In some sectors, like mining, there has been a transition from a fatalistic culture to a shop-floor culture. However, with the introduction of legislation that made companies criminally liable, the bureaucratic safety culture started to dominate.

Towards an integrated safety culture



In companies that already make safety a high priority, the way forward lies in shifting from a bureaucratic safety culture to an integrated safety culture. This requires taking into account what experts and management anticipate as risky situations, and listening to what sharp-end workers have to say about the reality of operations in the field.

An integrated safety culture implies that both managers and operational staff feel responsible for keeping the system safe through their activities and, to this end, interact with all of the other actors involved. It requires strong leadership from management, increased involvement on the part of employees and their safety representatives, a redefinition of the role of HSE experts, and fluid interfaces between departments, and with external companies.