What is OHS Climate

In the last Newsletter, we looked at some of the principles of a Corporate Compliance Culture. In this blog we are going to continue to expand on that topic, with what is a Safety Climate?

Safety Climate

The term ‘safety climate’ has already been mentioned above, as originating from a psychological approach towards safety culture. Although the two terms and underlying concepts are related, and often used interchangeably, safety climate and safety culture are not the same.

Safety climate can be regarded as a more superficial and momentary reflection – a snapshot – of an organisation’s safety culture. When considering the different layers of organisational safety culture, safety culture addresses the deeper, implicit convictions (at the core) which are shared amongst the members of a group, and which are expressed, amongst others, through the safety climate, i.e. the shared perceptions of workers regarding safety and their working environment.

Using a metaphor, organisational (safety) culture could be seen as the personality of an organisation, whereas (safety) climate as the organisation’s mood. Dov Zohar is considered one of the originators of the safety climate approach, starting his research some thirty years ago (Zohar, 1980). Since then, much research and many publications have focused on theoretical and practical issues relating to

the topic. In a recent article, in which thirty years of safety climate research is evaluated, Zohar (2010) stresses three particular targets of safety climate perceptions, which distinguish them from other perception/climate-based concepts, and which should thus be included in further safety climate research:

  • Relative priorities of competing demands: safety climate should look at the way workers prioritise safety in comparison to other competing tasks (e.g. safety versus productivity or efficiency).
  • Gaps between words and deeds: safety climate should also concentrate on the gap between how line managers prioritise safety (stating how important safety is) and how, in practice, safety is possibly compromised under operational demands.
  • Internal consistencies among policies and procedures: safety climate should also focus on the potential inconsistencies between how employers and top managers draw-up policies and procedures, and how these are put in practice by supervisors at lower organisational levels (local adaptation).

As will be further discussed, safety climate is assessed by means of quantitative, psychometric questionnaire surveys, so-called ‘safety climate scales’, measuring the shared perceptions/opinions of a group of workers on certain safety related dimensions or factors. Examples are perceptions towards management, commitment to safety, leadership safety support, worker communication, participation

and competence (incl. training aspects) with regard to safety, safety systems (policies, rules, reporting, preventive measures, etc.), risks, and work pressure. The outcome of such safety climate scales are regarded by many researchers as a predictor or indicator of safety performance.

A key issue with regard to the assessment of an organisation’s safety climate is that the outcomes of safety climate scales (i.e. espoused values) are often used to draw direct conclusions about the safety culture raises this as a problematic strategy, for the reason that there might be a substantial discrepancy between what people claim to do (i.e. how workers complete (standardised) safety climate questionnaires) and what people actually do and how they behave.