Safety Culture in Sea and Aviation Transport

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)

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The research presented in this thesis investigates sea and aviation transport safety culture, with a focus on perceptions and attitudes. A safety culture reflects the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, and values that individuals share in relation to safety. Safety culture is often identified as being essential to an organization's ability to manage safety-related aspects of its operations. The aims of this research are: to assess individual perceptions and judgments of safety culture in practical contexts by using nine aspects of safety culture found in the safety culture literature; to increase knowledge about the safety culture aspects by conducting comparative studies in three transport branches; and to investigate relationships between safety culture aspects and organizational climate dimensions. The approach to safety culture presented in this thesis focuses on good organizational learning and investigates nine aspects: Learning, Reporting, Justness, Flexibility, Communication, Attitudes towards safety, Safety-related behaviours, Risk perception, and Working situation.

Studies were conducted in airport ground handling (one site), passenger shipping (six ships), and air traffic control (three sites), where the safety culture was assessed using observations, questionnaire packages, interviews, and collection of facts. In total, 949 subjects completed a questionnaire package containing nine scales, one for each safety culture aspect, and 80 interviews were conducted. Ekvall's organizational climate questionnaire, which focuses in part on an organization's ability for innovation and change, was completed by 719 subjects.

The nine scales representing the nine safety culture aspects were found to function well with good reliability in the three transport settings, and may constitute valuable methods for monitoring and improving safety culture in working environments. Obtaining both questionnaire data (the nine scales) and interview data was valuable; the questionnaire package provided comparative data across transport branches and allowed establishment of reference data concerning safety culture aspects in each of the three branches. The interviews provided knowledge and examples of positive and negative expressions of safety culture that the interviewees had experienced.

The comparative studies of safety culture aspects were conducted using a multiplex approach of data collection, which provided valuable knowledge about safety culture in practical contexts.

The comparisons of average scores for the nine safety culture aspects showed that air traffic control often had somewhat higher average scores than the other two branches, while the ground handling ramp organization generally had the lowest average scores.

Compared to employees, managers generally had somewhat more positive perceptions and judgments of safety culture aspects, but the two groups differed very little in their perceptions and judgments of the organizational climate. Managers? expectations and goals concerning safety culture aspects were compared to employees? actual questionnaire scores. Employees? reports of the safety culture aspects were often poorer than both managers? estimations of reality and managers? lower acceptable limits for safety culture aspect scores.

Individual characteristics, such as gender, age, and time in company, were found to have very little effect on how the safety culture aspects were perceived and judged.

The organizational climate on board three passenger/cargo ships was found to be somewhere in between the normative ?innovative? and the ?stagnating? organization types, and very often closer to the ?stagnating? type. The organizational climate at each of the three air traffic control sites was similar to the climate in ?innovative? organizations.

Relationships existed between safety culture aspects and organizational climate dimensions. In passenger shipping, better Challenge/Motivation among personnel and a higher level of Support for ideas were significantly positively related to most safety culture aspects. In air traffic control, a higher level of Support for ideas and a lower level of Conflicts were significantly positively related to many safety culture aspects.

The results show that learning processes are better developed in the air traffic control setting than in passenger shipping and airport ground handling ramp activities. Compared to the other two branches, air traffic control can be characterized by a more mature approach to reporting anomalies and by having a more developed procedure for analysing limitations and implementing improvements.

Further research in the safety culture field should concentrate on developing methods for assessing the behavioural and situational areas of safety culture; testing the relation of safety culture to safety management and safety behaviour; determining which aspects and items are important for measuring safety culture; and finding indications of what elements influence safety behaviours, and how they exert this influence.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Ergonomics and Aerosol Technology
  • Akselsson, Roland, Supervisor
Award date2006 Jun 7
Print ISBNs91-628-6686-9
Publication statusPublished - 2006

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2006-06-07
Time: 13:15
Place: Stora Hörsalen, IKDC, Sölvegatan 26, Faculty of Engineering, Lund university

External reviewer(s)

Name: Grote, Gudela
Title: Prof
Affiliation: ETH Zürich, Schweiz


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Production Engineering, Human Work Science and Ergonomics


  • organizational climate
  • air traffic control
  • safety culture
  • passenger shipping
  • airport ground handling
  • Social sciences
  • Samhällsvetenskaper
  • Development psychology
  • Utvecklingspsykologi
  • Applied and experimental psychology
  • Tillämpad och experimentell psykologi
  • Technological sciences
  • Teknik
  • Säkerhetsteknik
  • Safety technology


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