Content uploaded by Mohd Saidin Misnan
All content in this area was uploaded by Mohd Saidin Misnan on Nov 23, 2014
Content may be subject to copyright.
Misnan, M S and Mohammed, A H (2007)
Development of safety culture in the construction industry:
a conceptual framework. In: Boyd, D (Ed) Procs 23rd Annual ARCOM Conference, 3-5 September
2007, Belfast, UK, Association of Researchers in Construction Management, 13-22.
DEVELOPMENT OF SAFETY CULTURE IN THE
CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY: A CONCEPTUAL
Mohd Saidin Misnan
and Abdul Hakim Mohammed
1Department of Quantity Surveying, Faculty of Built Environment, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia,
81310 UTM Skudai, Johor, Malaysia
2Department of Property Management, Faculty of Geoinformation Science and Engineering, Universiti
Teknologi Malaysia, 81310 UTM Skudai, Johor, Malaysia
The nature of most accidents at the construction sites shows that the construction
industry is unique. Factor involved include human behaviour, different construction
sites, the difficulties of works, unsafe safety culture, dangerous machinery and
equipment being used, and non-compliance to the various set procedures. Study
shows that an accident and injury at the worksite is often the result of workers’
behaviour, work practices or behaviour and work culture. Safety and health culture
are more related to workers’ safety practices. An efficient safety management system
ought to be based on the safety awareness that should become a culture in the
construction industry involving all the parties. The efficient safety culture and safety
management system should be shown to the public, and as well as healthy and safety
in environmental value business. This paper will discuss the conceptual framework of
the development of safety culture in the construction industry, known as one of the
dangerous industries but which can still provide a safe working environment thus
offering a safe and promising career. Safety culture is an alternative for encouraging
competition at any level. The construction industry must have a safety culture in
order to reduce number of accidents, fatalities and injuries that involves workers and
Keywords: behaviour, safety, safety culture, work practices.
INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
The construction industry is unique among other industries as the activities of
construction often take place in the outdoor under conditions not conducive for safety
and health. Workers in the construction sites have to face constant change in the
nature of work, the location of work and the mix of workers. Most of the people tend
to relate construction industry with dangerous working environment and high risk as
compared to others. The reputation of construction industry is relying on the expertise
of implementation and management of safety and also how it can be completed safely
and meet the consumer's requirements (Mills, 2001; Loosemore et al. 2003; Root,
2005; Goetsch, 2005).
One of the actions that can be undertaken in order to develop good or better image of
construction industry is by providing safe working environment (Jamal Khan et al.
2005). High accidents in construction industry are causing losses of both the number
of labours and millions ringgit of properties every year in the country (Alves Dias and
Coble, 1996; Singh et al. 1999). If this situation is not reduced to a minimum or if
Misnan and Mohammed
possible prevented, it will hinder the country's economic growth in becoming a
developed country in year 2020 (CIDB, 2000).
Objectives of the research
This paper is part of a PhD research and it presents literature review related to the
safety culture. This paper begins with background of safety issues and safety culture
in construction industry. The objectives of this research are:
a) To identify factors involved in the development of safety culture through
searching and reviewing previous research.
b) To present the findings of the literature review as a guide to understand the
issues and problems in the development of safety culture in the construction
c) To develop safety culture conceptual framework in the construction industry in
Accident, Safety and Culture
Nowadays, quality and safety are two main issues in construction industry. ISO 9000
has been promoted in construction industry to ensure the quality of construction work
done by the contractors. Apart from quality of work, a safe working environment is
very necessary to erase the high risk image closely associated with the construction
industry. Construction safety is a standard of quality that is indicated in the contract
and required by the client (Alves Dias and Coble, 1996). As projects are becoming
more complex, safety has become a main focus in ensuring the safety of the
construction personal and properties. Developed countries such as UK and Australia
have enforced safety rules in contractors’ works on site. Revolution and changes in
safety system management has become a mandate in practicing safety action that can
be managed interminable (Low and Sua, 2000). The worldwide construction industry
is still practicing work process by labour intensive based on wet trades. This factor
contributes to the low quality of work due to the workers’ lack of expertise and
training, while at the same time exposes them to the accident easily (CIDB, 2004).
Accident theory on human factors shows that there is a link of events which are
caused by human faults. In this theory, there are three general factors causing human
faults, namely; overload, irrelevant response, and irrelevant activities. Refering to
Heinrich Theory, accidents are caused by main factors that can be predicted such as
human faults, unsafe environment, or dangerous use of machineries(Goetsch, 1998).
These accidents and injuries can be avoided by putting aside these factors.
Current research shows that construction industry has been labelled as an industry
with low level of safety and health culture. Compared to other industries, it has been
shown that this industry has the highest number of accidents. The efforts of
improving the safety and health at work for this industry will become useless until
the safety and health culture is improved (CIDB, 2000). The changes have to be
undertaken by the construction industry towards establishing the paradigm of safety
and health culture which may improve the safety and health level in line with the
requirements of safety and health in the construction industry in total (Misnan et al.
Definition of Safety Culture
There are hundreds of definitions of culture. Culture is difficult to define because it is
a large and inclusive concept. "Everything you need to know in life to get along in a
society" is not as useful a definition, however, as one that focuses on what culture's
characteristics are. Culture involves learned and shared behaviours, norms, values, and
material objects. It also encompasses what people create to express values, attitudes,
and norms. Culture is largely undiscussed by the members who share it. Edward Hall,
a key researcher into cultures, in Varner and Beamer (2005) stated:
Culture [is] those deep, common, unstated experiences which members of a
given culture share, which they communicate without knowing, and which
form the backdrop against which all other events are judged .
The concept of culture was first known to represent, in a very broad and holistic sense,
the qualities of any specific human group that are passed from one generation to the
next. This includes religion, way of life, values and beliefs of people. This is known as
'social culture'. People born in a particular culture are expected to believe and behave
differently from others (Shamil Naoum, 2001). Similar to the social culture, each
organization has its own culture dominated by its values and behaviour. This is known
as 'organizational culture'.
According to Booth (1995), the term safety culture was introduced to the nuclear
safety debate by the International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group of International
Automatic Energy Agency (IAEA) in their analysis of the Chernobyl disaster. IAEA
(1986) defined the safety culture of an organization as the product of individual and
group values, attitudes, competencies and patterns of behaviour that determined the
commitment to, and the style and proficiency of an organization's health and safety
programmes. Overall safety culture can be described as a set of beliefs, norms
attitudes and social technical practices that are concerned with minimizing the
exposure of individuals, within and beyond an organization, to conditions considered
dangerous or injurious.
Cooper (2000) theoretically defined safety culture as a sub-facet of organizational
culture, which is thought to affect member's attitudes and behavior in relation to an
organization's ongoing health and safety performance. He argued that defining the
product of safety culture is very important to clarify what a safety culture should look
like in an organization. He added that this also could help to determine the functional
strategies required to developing this product, and it could provide an outcome
measure to assess the degree to which organizations might or might not possess a
'good' safety culture. This outcome has been severely lacking in construction, hitherto.
Safety culture and culture of safety are frequently encountered terms referring to a
commitment to safety that permeates all levels of an organization, from frontline
personnel to executive management. More specifically, "safety culture" calls up a
number of features identified in studies of high reliability organizations, organizations
outside of health care with exemplary performance with respect to safety (Roberts,
1990). Whereas Cox and Cox (1991) (in industrial gases, European) defined safety
culture as one which reflects the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, and values that
employees share in relation to safety. A definition of safety culture adopted by many
the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions,
competencies and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to,
and the style and proficiency of an organization's health and safety
Misnan and Mohammed
management characterized by communications founded on mutual trust,
shared perceptions of the importance of safety and by confidence in the
efficacy of preventative measures (ACSNI, 1993).
Most definitions of safety culture encapsulate beliefs, values, and attitudes that are
shared by a group. As human behaviours (and thus at an individual level, safe or
unsafe behaviours) are partly guided by personal beliefs, values, and attitudes
(Kleinke, 1984; Fazio, 1986), continued workplace safety may have its base in
individually, and organizationally constructed shared beliefs that safety is important.
A related theme evident in the definitions of safety culture offered is that of individual
norms. Ostrom et al. (1993) argued that a culture is comprised of social norms, which
are unspoken rules of behaviour that, if not followed, result in sanctions.
ISSUES AND PROBLEMS IN SAFETY CULTURE
Jones (1997) stated that safety is part of important aspects which should be given an
attention and guidance to improve the stated safety management to stronger safety
culture. Some can be used like the method to improve safety management, plant and
equipment, and workers involvement. Safety culture in construction community can
be very low. Looking at that weakness in these characteristic and human attitudes, it
can be concluded that to protect from accidents, it demands changing of paradigm in
the characteristic and human attitudes. Previous reactive and bad attitudes, generally a
norm, should be changed to positive and proactive culture (Misnan et al. 2006).
Two fairly distinct approaches to managing workplaces safety have competed for
attention and have generated a considerable amount of debate and controversy during
the past decade. The first of these approaches, behavior-based safety, focuses on the
identification and modification of critical safety behaviour, and emphasizes how such
behaviors are linked to workplace injuries and losses. The second approach, in
contrast, emphasizes the fundamental importance of the organization's safety culture
and how it shapes and influences safety behaviors and safety program effectiveness.
Adding to this mix, each movement has recruited its own persuasive proponents and
vocal detractors. On the surface at least, the two approaches appear to be indirect
opposition to each other and represent two entirely different world views of injury
causation and safety management (Dejoy, 2005).
Safety and Organizational Culture
Culture is defined as those practices common to a group of people. In this context,
safety can be expressed in simple direct terms as behavior affected by culture. Note
that this topic encompasses both management behavior (action or inaction) and
employee behavior (Eckhardt, 1996). Culture is further defined as missions interacting
with work processes and corporate values to generate behavior (McSween, 2003).
How a company’s mission is understood, followed by expectations and processes,
Organizational or corporate culture as defined by Handy (1993) is the 'pervasive way
of life or set of norms and values that evolve in an organization over a period of time'.
Norms are unwritten but accepted rules which tell people in organizations how they
are expected to behave. They may be concerned with such things as how managers
deal with their staff (management style), how people work together, how hard people
should work or the extent to which relationships should be formal or informal. Values
are beliefs on how people should behave with regard to such matters as care and
consideration for colleagues, customer service, the achievement of high performance
and quality, and innovation.
There is also some debate, initiated by Hofstede (1980), and revived by Reason
(1998), about the ownership of culture. Some theorists argue that the organization has
culture, whereas others argue that the organization is culture. Like organizational
culture, safety culture is assumed to be a relatively stable construct, similar to
personality, and resilient to change in the face of immediate and transient issues.
Safety culture is often seen as a subset of organizational culture, where the beliefs and
values refer specifically to matters of health and safety (Clarke, 1999).
It should be noted that the proposed definition of safety culture is stated in neutral
terms. As such, the definition implies that organizational culture exists on a continuum
and that organizations can have either a good or poor safety culture. However, not all
definitions in the literature make this assumption. Some suggest that safety culture is
either present or absent within an organization. Nevertheless, it is clear from the initial
introduction of the term within various operational environments that safety culture is
assumed to be a component of an organization that can be improved rather than
simply instilled (IAEA, 1986; Cox and Flin, 1998). Obviously, such a distinction is
important when it comes to both measuring and changing safety cultures within
organizations. More specifically, safety culture is seen as a subfacet of organizational
culture and exists at a higher level of abstraction than safety climate. It seems
plausible that safety culture and safety climate are not reflective of a unitary concept,
rather, they are complementary independent concepts (Cooper, 2000).
Cultural change aims to change the existing culture of an organization. Organizational
or corporate culture is the system of values (what is regarded as important in
organizational and individual behaviour) and accepted ways of behaviour (norms)
which strongly influence 'the way things are done around here'. It is founded on well-
established beliefs and assumptions.
Organizational culture is significant because it conveys a sense of identity and unity of
purpose to members of an organization, facilitates the generation of commitment and
helps to shape behaviour by providing guidance on what is expected. It can work for
an organization by creating an environment which is conducive to high performance.
It can work against an organization by encouraging unproductive behaviour. Strong
cultures will have been formed over a considerable period of time and have more
widely shared and more deeply held beliefs than weak ones. Strong cultures are only
appropriate if they promote desirable behaviour. If they do not, they are inappropriate
and must be changed (Armstrong and Stephens, 2005).
SAFETY CULTURE: A CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
Glendon and McKenna (1995) stated that effective safety management is both
functional (involving management control, monitoring, executive and communication
subsystems) and human (involving leadership, political and safety culture sub-systems
paramount to safety culture). The concept of safety culture emerged from earlier ideas
of organizational climate, organizational culture and safety climate. They described
safety culture as the embodiment of a set of principles, which loosely defines what
organization is like in terms of health and safety.
Misnan and Mohammed
In this approach, safety is looked into from the culture point of view of shared
characteristics of a group dynamic relating to a system (e.g. group, community, race,
nation, religion) which include beliefs, values, attitudes, opinions and motivations.
Glendon and McKenna (1995) pointed out that building a safety culture on so many
diversities is not an easy task. But it had been proven that organizations with good
safety cultures have employees with positive patterns of attitudes towards safety
practice. These organizations have mechanisms in place to gather safety-related
information, measure safety performance and bring people together to learn how to
work more safely. Ostrom et al. (1993) looked at the employees' perceptions of safety
culture as follows:
• Management attitudes towards safety;
• Perceived level of risk;
• Effects of work pace;
• Management actions towards safety;
• Status of safety adviser and safety committee;
• Importance of health and safety training; and
• Social status of safety and promotion.
Creating a culture of safety means that the employees are constantly aware of hazards
in the workplace, including the ones that they create themselves. It becomes second
nature to the employees to take steps to improve safety. The responsibility is on
everyone, not just the management. However, this is a long process to get to that point
(Dilley and Kleiner, 1996).
Safety and health culture within a company is closely linked to the workforce’s
attitudes in respect to safety. They share the company’s risk, accidents and incidents.
According to Glendon and McKenna (1995), effective safety management is both
functional (involving management control, monitoring, executive and communication
sub-systems) and humanizes (involving leadership, political and safety culture sub-
systems paramount to safety culture). The role of management and the involvement of
all employees as important key players in safety and health culture are important in
order to cultivate the positive beliefs, practices, norms and attitudes among all in the
company. Glendon and McKenna (1995) also identified four critical indicators of
safety culture. They are:
• Effective communication, it leads to commonly understood goals and means to
achieve them at all levels.
• Good organizational learning, whereby organizations are able to identify and
respond appropriately to changes.
• Organizational focus upon health and safety, how much time and attention is
essentially paid to health and safety.
• External factors, including the financial health of the organization, the
prevailing economic climate and impact of regulation and how well these are
The theoretical and empirical development of safety culture and climate has followed
the pattern set by organizational culture and climate, although to a lesser extent. As
stated previously, most efforts have focused on the empirical issues surrounding safety
climate although it is possible to identify theoretical development of concepts within
the safety culture literature. Also, the terms safety culture and safety climate have
been used interchangeably in the literature (Cox and Flin, 1998). Cox and Cox (1996)
also demonstrated this point by likening culture to personality, and climate to mood.
Conducting a survey will assess the current mood state of an individual. Some
responses may be indicative of the individual's stable underlying beliefs, constructs
and personality but overall, the survey will reflect how the individual feels at that
point in time. The comparison between culture and personality seems attractive
because personality is relatively stable over time whereas climate and mood can be
susceptible to short-term fluctuations (Pervin, 2003).
Creating a safe and healthy work culture requires the inculcation of safe and healthy
practices as part of everyday life, at work and at home among all the workers in
Malaysia. Culture means doing something automatically, spontaneously, without
having second thoughts about it. In occupational safety, a safety culture means
automatically correcting a hazardous act of job task or eliminating a hazardous
condition. In occupational health, it means automatically undertaking measures to
ensure protection from health hazards at the workplace using personal protective
equipment and without having to be told repeatedly to do so (Lee, 2003).
Concept of Safety Culture in Construction Industry
Today, the changes in safety management have opened a new outlook to war safety. It
is no longer being treated as secondary in the business context rather it is treated as a
culture. More emphasis is being put on ensuring everyone understand the importance
of safety and changing the attitudes and behaviour is the hard task. Safety is not only
the manager's responsibility but everyone must play part (Stewart, 2002).
Figure 1 shows the conceptual framework of safety culture development. The
development of safety culture based on the framework views the overall individual to
group responsibility that develops the total value of safety culture which support the
organizational culture. Everyone must play part in the organizational culture to ensure
correct understanding of the importance of safety and changing the attitude and
behaviour through the instrinsic and extrinsic element of the culture. Organizational
culture will be transmitted to all organization activities which involve intrinsic and
extrinsic elements of the organization. This will in turn be transmitted to every
member in the organization. All instrinsic and extrinsic elements of culture will affect
the organization culture throughout the development of safety culture. Consequently,
it makes the concept of safety culture more acceptable with expected wider
attention. It does not mean that the safety system nowadays is not relevant for
practices, but this system will function well when the organization has developed
safety culture. The reason can be seen from different aspects: the existence of barrier
in safety system which may be less if the organization can develop strong safety
For a long time, the construction industry has been labelled with a poor occupational
safety and health culture. Efforts to improve occupational safety and health
performance will not be effective until the occupational safety and health culture is
improved (Misnan et al. 2006). As the result, there is a need for a major paradigm
shift regarding attitudes on occupational safety and health in construction sites.
Widening the understanding of behaviour increases insight into possible targets for
improvements, for example better planning, more effective job design, or more
Misnan and Mohammed
comfortable personal protection. Human behaviour influence on safety performance is
enormous. Therefore, this root problem must be solved effectively.
The individual The group
Intrinsic elements Extrinsic elements
Defined or manifested
Figure 1: Conceptual framework of safety culture development
The legislation has changed over the years with more emphasis on safety at work. Still
today the rules and regulations are being improved to make the working environment
safe. Besides the effect of laws, many safety activism factors also influence the
decision of modern managers regarding health and safety such as the active role of the
trade unions, consumerism and the legal battle by accident/incident victims. All these
factors are forcing managers to change their attitudes towards safety. It is clear that
working environment safety is going to be better. Managers are now adopting
proactive approaches towards safety.
In summary, there appears to be considerable evidence suggesting that organizational
and contextual factors are important in terms of a variety of workplace safety related
outcomes. However, current definitions of safety culture remain rather vague and
variable, and current knowledge does not permit precise statements about which
factors are most important in which organizations or situations. Also, systematic
studies evaluating field-based interventions specifically targeted to safety culture
change are conspicuous in their absence. But this is perhaps not that surprising given
current conceptual and measurement limitations. It is also worth noting that
intervening into the culture of an organization is difficult under the best of
circumstances, because it requires that the organization be willing to look at itself and
make fundamental changes in the way it pursues its core activities. These limitations
not withstanding, the importance and usefulness of organizational culture as it pertains
to workplace safety appears to be broadly accepted by researchers and practitioners
Advisory Committee for Safety in Nuclear Installations (ACSNI) (1993). ACSNI Study
Group on Human Factors. Third Report: Organizing for Safety. London: Health and
Alves Dias, L.M. and Coble, R.J. eds. (1996). Implementation of Safety and Health on
Construction Sites. Rotterdam: A.A. Balkema.
Armstrong, M. and Stephens, T. (2005). A Handbook of Management and Leadership: A
Guide to Managing for Results. London: Kogan Page. .
Booth, R.T. (1995). The Role of Human Factors and Safety Culture in Safety Management.
Proceedings of the IME. 209(1), 393-399.
Clarke, S. (1999). Perceptions of Organizational Safety: Implications for the Development of
Safety Culture. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 20(2), 185-198.
Construction Industry Development Board Malaysia (2000). Construction Industry: Issues and
Challenges. Proceedings of the CIDB Workshop on Technology Foresight. March 21-
22. Kuala Lumpur: CIDB. 13-19.
Cooper, M.D. (2000). Towards a Model of Safety Culture. Safety Science. 36(2), 111-136.
Cox, S.J. and Cox, T. (1991). The Structure of Employee Attitudes to Safety: A European
Example. Work and Stress. 5(2), 93-106.
Cox, S. and Cox, T. (1996). Safety System and People. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann. .
Cox, S.J. and Flin, R. (1998). Safety Culture: Philosopher’s Stone or Man of Straw? Work and
Stress. 12(3), 189-201. .
DeJoy, D.M. (2005). Behaviour Change Versus Culture Changes: Divergent Approaches to
Managing Workplace Safety. Safety Science. 43(2), 105-129.
Dilley, H. and Kleiner, B.H. (1996). Creating a Culture of Safety. Work Study. 45(3), 5-8.
Eckhardt, R. (1996). Practitioner's Influence on Safety Culture. Professional Safety. 41(7),
Fazio, R.H. (1986). How do Attitudes Guide Behavior ? In: Sorrentino, R.M. eds. The
Hanbook of Motivation and Cognition: Foundations of Social Behavior. New York:
Guilford Press. .
Glendon, A.I. and McKenna, E.F. (1995). Human Safety and Risk Management. London:
Chapman and Hall.
Goetsch, D.L. (1998). Implementing Total Safety Management: Safety, Health, and
Competitiveness in the Global Marketplace. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. .
Goetsch, D.L. (2005). Occupational Safety and Health for Technologists, Engineers, and
Managers. 5th. ed. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Handy, C.B. (1993). Understanding Organizations. 4th. ed. London: Penguin.
Misnan and Mohammed
Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture's Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related
Values. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications. .
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (1986). Summary Report on the Post Accident
Review Meeting on the Chernobyl Accident. (IAEA Safety Series Report INSAG-1).
Vienna: International Atomic Energy Agency.
Jones, C.L. (1997). Tower of Strength. Journal of Mining Technology. 79(907), 73-80.
Kleinke, C.L (1984). Two Model of Conceptualizing the Attitude-Behavior Relationship.
Human Relation. 37(4), 333-350.
Lee, L.T. (2003). The Role of NIOSH in Promoting OSH in the Country. Keynote Address by
Chairman, NIOSH, Malaysia. Proceedings of the 19th Annual Conference of Asia
Pacific Occupational Safety and Health Organization. 2-3 September. Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysian Society of Occupational Safet and Health.
Loosemore, M., Dainty, A. and Lingard, H. (2003). Human Resource Management in
Construction Project: Strategic and Operational Approaches. New York: Spoon
Low, S.P. and Sua, C.S. (2000). The Maintenance of Construction Safety: Riding on ISO
9000 Quality Management Systems. Quality in Maintenance Engineering. 6(1), 28-
Mills, A. (2001). A Syatematic Approach to Risk Management for Construction. Structural
Survey. 19(5), 245-252.
Jamal Khan, M K, Abdullah, N A C and Yusof, A A (2005). Keselamatan and Kesihatan
Pekerjaan Dalam Organisasi. Petaling Jaya: Prentice Hall.
Misnan, M S, Mohammed, A H, Bakri, A and Zin, R M (2006). Occupational Safety and
Health (OSH) Management System: Towards Development of Safety and Health
Culture. The 6th Asia Pacific Structural Engineering and Construction Conference
2006 (APSEC 2006). 5-6 September. Kuala Lumpur. Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.
Ostrom, L., Wilhelmsen, C. and Kaplan, B. (1993). Assessing Safety Culture. Journal of
Nuclear Safety. 34(2), 163-173.
Pervin, L.A. (2003). The Science of Personality. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
Reason, J. (1998). Achieving a Safety Culture: Theory and Practice. Work and Stress. 12(3),
Roberts, K.H. (1990). Managing High Reliability Organizations. California Management
Review. 32(4), 101-113.
Root, D.F. (2005). Creating a Culture of Safety on Construction Sites. Risk Management.
Shamil Naoum (2001). People and Organizational Management in Construction. London:
Singh, A., Hinze, J. and Coble, R.J. eds. (1999). Implementation of Safety and Health on
Construction Sites. Brookfield: A.A. Balkema. .
Stewart, J.M. (2002). Managing for World Class Safety. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Varner, I. and Beamer, L. (2005). Intercultural Communication in the Global Workplace. 3rd.
ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.