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Safety culture

A workplace culture is the product of the attitudes and behaviours that exist there.  A safety culture is the product of the attitudes towards safety issues and the way work hazards are managed.

The term was first used in 1988 after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster. The aviation and the oil and gas industries use ways to shape a positive safety culture and track it (1).  

But while the risk of preventable harm is high, healthcare has yet to develop similar methods.

Some healthcare organisations use survey tools, such as the Manchester Patient Safety Framework, to gather feedback about how staff see "things are done around here".

We have a clearer idea of the behaviours, systems and competencies associated with proactive safety cultures (2).

A change in culture is not a necessary precursor for changes in outcomes. But it can determine the success and sustainability of patient safety initiatives (3).

Tools and interventions: MaPSaF Manchester Patient Safety Assessment Framework

Staff answer questions about ten aspects of patient safety (e.g. recording incidents and best practice, communication about patient safety issues etc.). Staff assess how safety conscious they believe their organisation to be. The results can highlight strengths and weaknesses of the organisation's approach.


1. Hudson P (2003) Applying the lessons of high risk industries to health care, Quality and Safety in Health Care, 12(suppl 1) December, pp.i7-i12. 

2. Carthey J and Clarke J (2009) The "how to guide" for implementing human factors in healthcare (PDF 323.4KB), London: Patient Safety First. 

3. Dixon-Woods M et al (2012) Ten challenges in improving quality in healthcare: lessons from the Health Foundation's programme evaluations and relevant literature. BMJ Quality and Safety 21(10) October, pp.876-884, doi: 10.1136/bmjqs-2011-000760.