Does the concept of safety culture help or hinder systems thinking in safety?

Teemu Reiman (Corresponding Author), Carl Rollenhagen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

75 Citations (Scopus)


The concept of safety culture has become established in safety management applications in all major safety-critical domains. The idea that safety culture somehow represents a "systemic view" on safety is seldom explicitly spoken out, but nevertheless seem to linger behind many safety culture discourses. However, in this paper we argue that the "new" contribution to safety management from safety culture never really became integrated with classical engineering principles and concepts. This integration would have been necessary for the development of a more genuine systems-oriented view on safety; e.g. a conception of safety in which human, technological, organisational and cultural factors are understood as mutually interacting elements. Without of this integration, researchers and the users of the various tools and methods associated with safety culture have sometimes fostered a belief that "safety culture" in fact represents such a systemic view about safety. This belief is, however, not backed up by theoretical or empirical evidence. It is true that safety culture, at least in some sense, represents a holistic term-a totality of factors that include human, organisational and technological aspects. However, the departure for such safety culture models is still human and organisational factors rather than technology (or safety) itself. The aim of this paper is to critically review the various uses of the concept of safety culture as representing a systemic view on safety. The article will take a look at the concepts of culture and safety culture based on previous studies, and outlines in more detail the theoretical challenges in safety culture as a systems concept. The paper also presents recommendations on how to make safety culture more systemic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-15
JournalAccident Analysis and Prevention
Publication statusPublished - 2014
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • safety culture
  • safety management
  • safety model
  • systems thinking


Dive into the research topics of 'Does the concept of safety culture help or hinder systems thinking in safety?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this