Achieving an Effective Safety Culture |
Published: May 8th 2010
Printer friendly version
The Safety Management Systems (SMS) Working Group, with
representatives of the rail industry, unions and Transport Canada,
was established to address recommendations of the Railway Safety
Act review with respect to safety management systems.
Recommendation 18 was specific to safety culture:
Transport Canada, Rail Safety Directorate and
the railway industry must take specific measures to attain an
effective safety culture.
As the Railway Safety Act review panel noted in its
report, “the cornerstone of a truly functioning SMS is an effective
Achieving an effective safety culture is the ultimate goal of SMS.
An effective safety culture in a railway company can reduce public
and employee fatalities and injuries, property damage resulting from
railway accidents, and the impact of accidents on the environment.
Safety culture is a complex concept, however, and one that is
challenging to define. In simple terms, an organization’s safety
culture is demonstrated by the way people do their jobs - their
decisions, actions and behaviours define the culture of an
Following an extensive review of the literature on safety
culture, as well as best practices in other industries, the SMS
Working Group defined safety culture as follows:
The safety culture of an organization is the
result of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions,
competencies and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment
to, and the style and proficiency of, an organization’s health and
safety management system.
Organizations with a positive safety culture
are characterized by communications from various stakeholders
founded on mutual trust, by shared perceptions of the importance of
safety and by confidence in the efficacy of preventive measures.
The Working Group also identified the following key practices for
a safety culture:
- Leadership and commitment to safety culture
- Two-way communication
- Stakeholder / employee / employee representative involvement
- The existence of a learning culture
- The existence of a just culture
The following checklist describes the elements of each of these
Leadership and Commitment to Safety Culture:
- Clear leadership and commitment to safety at the
executive/senior levels, as well as line management.
- Safety is a core value at all levels of the company.
- Safety is integrated into all levels of the company
through policies, processes, procedures, objectives and
- Executive participation in safety activities, such as
health and safety committee meetings, safety walkabouts and
- Self-evaluation, including benchmarking and lessons
learnt, for purposes of continuous improvement at all
- Multiple processes to promote management – employee
communications (e.g., safety meetings, town hall meetings,
safety forums, briefings, mentoring, performance reviews).
- Multiple processes to augment employee awareness and
knowledge of safety (e.g., newsletters, communiqués,
brochures, safety flashes, training).
- Confidential phone line, or other processes, for
employees to report incidents and safety issues without fear
- Safety surveys directed towards employees and health and
Stakeholder / Employee / Employee Representative
- Empowered and proactive health and safety committees
(e.g., annual action plans for top causes).
- Process to support and augment effectiveness of health
and safety committees.
- Involvement in risk assessments.
- Participation in safety site visits, walkabouts, audits,
- Participation in investigations and corrective actions.
- Involvement in developing and implementing safety
programs at all levels.
A Learning Culture:
- Continuous improvement through internal and external
- Processes for monitoring safety trends (e.g., trend
- Use of leading indicators (e.g., near-misses, audit
results, rule violations, health and safety effectiveness).
- Systematic risk assessments.
- Systematic corrective actions following accident /
- SMS internal audits.
- Audit and quality assurance of accident / incident
investigations, corrective actions, etc.
- Internal processes for sharing safety knowledge and best
practices (e.g., website for health and safety committee
minutes and action plans).
A Just Culture:
- Company policies will encourage and/or recognize
employees, and be fair.
- Complete and objective investigations.
- Internal escalation process for unresolved health and
- Internal recourse for employees to deal with safety
issues (e.g., safety ombudsman).
- Going beyond rule violations when identifying accident /
incident causes (e.g., factors such as training, rest,
knowledge, familiarity, supervision, and clarity of work
- Non-punitive reporting processes for employees to report
incidents, accidents, near misses and other safety concerns.
- Straightforward and transparent means to determine
whether or not disciplinary action is warranted.
1. Stronger Ties: A Shared Commitment to Railway Safety,
Review of the Railway Safety Act, November 2007
TP 13844 - "Score Your Safety Culture" Checklist