Understanding safety culture through models and metaphors

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“Few things are so sought after and yet so little understood.” With this pithy statement, psychologist James Reason expressed the potential value but also the elusiveness of this complex social-scientific concept twenty years ago (Reason, Managing the risks of organizational accidents. Ashgate, Aldershot, 1997). Culture had been on the mind of safety scientists since Turner’s book Man-made disasters from 1978, but the term ‘safety culture’ was only coined nine years later, right after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Since then, safety culture has been alluring as a cause—for both occupational accidents and process related events—and as a thing to strive for, although possibly unattainable (Guldenmund, Understanding and exploring safety culture. BOXPress, Oisterwijk, 2010). In this chapter, I will look at various perspectives on (safety) culture, using the metaphor as an illuminative principle, to identify (what seems to be) the essence of some dominating perspectives. Firstly, however, a common understanding of what culture ‘is’, needs to be established. I will then touch upon the assessment of culture. Afterwards, I will present four metaphors for safety culture, which represent the dominant perspectives on this concept. The chapter ends with suggestions on how safety culture might be influenced.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSafety cultures, safety models. Taking stock and moving forward
EditorsClaude Gilbert, Benoît Journé, Hervé Laroche, Corinne Bieder
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-95129-4
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-95128-7
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameSpringerBriefs in Applied Sciences and Technology
ISSN (Print)2191-530X
ISSN (Electronic)2191-5318


  • Safety culture
  • Culture model
  • Culture development
  • Culture assessment
  • Culture metaphors


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