Edited by Claude Gilbert, Benoît Journé, Hervé Laroche, Corinne Bieder,

Safety Cultures, Safety Models: taking stock and moving forward

This series of perspectives on safety culture is likely to be especially valuable to organisations that manage potentially high risks. The papers were produced under the leadership of Toulouse-based Fondation pour une Culture de Sécurité Industrielle (Industrial Safety Culture Foundation) after consultation with industry stakeholders. In turn, this was supported by a two-day seminar in 2016 at which academics were invited to present relevant work.




The essays in Safety Cultures, Safety Models go well beyond “how we do things round here”. They tackle issues such as where culture comes from, the difference between a good one and a bad one, and the scope we have to change the one we have should we not like it or (more importantly) decide it is not fit for purpose.

Inevitably, there is some repetition: most contributors start with their own version of safety culture’s historical background on which there is much common ground.

After that, though, we get some wide-ranging perspectives. I especially enjoyed Dominic Cooper’s lucid essay (ch 5), in which he explores culture models and maturity levels.

Equally well written is David Marx’s chapter on “culture as choice”. There are also excellent insights by Jean-Christophe Le Coze (ch 8), who deals with the visual side of safety. He highlights the crucial importance of correctly presenting safety-critical information to the eye, drawing on examples that range from the Heinrich-Bird triangle to the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986.

I equally enjoyed ch 10, which illustrates some of the key trade-offs that need to be considered: for example, a strong planning discipline may be a good thing in a company, but it can make the organisation less agile and less adaptive. At the individual level, someone who follows procedures to the letter sounds just the person to maximise safety; but they may well lack the ability to question and challenge (an essential starting point for continuous improvement).

A re-occurring message in these essays is that there is no single right answer when it comes to culture. Advisers must be aware of the many different models and, taking a horses-for-courses approach, implement improvements that suit their organisation’s specific context and needs.

As Laroche warns us (ch 14), safety culture can be commoditised, feed off itself and take on a life of its own.

Putting it another way, don’t kid yourself you’ve got a great culture model simply because you recommended it, directors agreed to it and costly consultants came in to deliver it.


Paul Smith’s career spans enforcement, consultancy and the power industry. A former Health and Safety Executive inspector, he’s now a specialist writer on safety and health topics.

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