JRHS 2009; 9(1): 30-36

Copyright © Journal of Research in Health Sciences

Safety Cultural Assessment among Management, Supervisory and Worker Groups in a Tar Refinery Plant

Habibi E( PhD) Fereidan M( MSc)

Department of Occupational Health, School of Health, Esfahan University of Medical Science, Esfahan, Iran:

Corresponding author: Dr Ehsanollah Habibi, E-mail: Habibi@hlth.mui.ac.ir

Received: 7 September 2008; Accepted: 25 February 2009


Background: This study investigated the relationship between people's attitudes towards the safety cul­ture and comparing its perceptions among three levels of refinery Personnel: top management, su­pervisory staff and frontline workers by conducting safety culture survey.

Methods: A questionnaire comprising general information and 59-safety attitude statement were dis­tributed among 237 workers, 53 supervisors and 12 managers in Isfahan Tar Refinery in Iran.

Results: The 10 testable factors, including organizational and management commitment  to safety and com­munication, Rule breaking, Training and competence, Pressure for production and safety, Com­munication, Personal involvement in health and safety, Accident/Incidents/Near misses, Organiza­tional/management commitment to health and safety, Supervisors/Immediate bosses/Line managers, Health and safety procedures/Instructions/rules, Workforce view on state of safety culture, have high in­ter-correlations and the three groups of respondents hold quite different attitudes regarding safety cul­ture.

Conclusion: These findings can give invaluable indication to the managers to have better understand­ing of safety culture in this industry.

Keywords: Safety culture, Management, Attitudes, Iran


Each day, an average of 6,000 people die as a result of work-related accidents or dis­eases, totaling more than 2.2 million work-re­lated deaths a year. Of these, about 350,000 deaths are from workplace accidents and more than 1.7 million are from work re­lated diseases (1). Many of the safety con­scious companies seem to have reached a point where they have applied most of the stan­dard engineer­ing approaches to improv­ing safety in the workplace, and thus indus­trial risk managers and safety program offi­cers have begun turn­ing their attention to ex­plore human, organ­izational, and other non-physical safety factors in the workplace with hopes to achieve fur­ther occupational injury re­duction. Many high reliability industries around the world are show­ing an interest in the concept of ' safety cul­ture, as a way of re­ducing the potential for large scale disas­ters. This has been the case, about major indus­trial incidents in 1970s and 80s.

The Chernobyl accident in April 1986 is con­sidered as a turning point in research about safety culture. It provided evidence of tech­no­logical vulnerability and emphasised the need to better understand organizational safety (2).

Hinze advocated the idea that safety is no lux­ury but a necessity (3). In the recent years, many companies have got to recog­nize that es­tablishment of a good safety cul­ture can help controlling and reducing the costs and in­crease the efficiency of their ongo­ing op­erations in long term.

Organizational culture

Organisational culture has been defined as a complex framework of national, organisa­tional and professional attitudes and values within groups and individuals function (4). Ac­cord­ing to Schein (5), organizational cul­ture is un­derstood to be deeply rooted assump­tions about human nature, human ac­tivities and social relationships shared by mem­bers of an organization and their expres­sion in values, be­havioural patterns, and artefacts found within the organization. Part of that culture in haz­ardous industries re­lates to safety, which was defined by Rea­son as the "ability of indi­viduals or organisa­tions to deal with risks and hazards so as to avoid damage or losses and yet still achieve their goals” (6). The beliefs and values that re­fer specially to health and safety form the subset of organisational culture referred to as safety culture. This shows how a dominant or­ganisational culture might in­fluence safety (7). According to Reason (6), Uttal's (7) defini­tion of organizational culture most closely captures its essence: “shared values (what is important) and beliefs (how things work) that interact with a company's people, organizational structures and control sy-stems to produce behavioural norms (the way we do things around here)”. Cooper (8) de­fines corporate culture as to reflect shared be-hav­iours, beliefs attitudes and values re­gard­ing or­ganizational goals, functions and pro­ce­dures'. In short, organizational culture is the interac­tion between organizations and individu­als, where employees' behaviour can change through mu­tual interaction. Richter and Koch (9) demon­strate that organiza­tional culture is the shared understanding within a given organization.

Pidgeon and OLeary (15) remind us that events such as Chernobyl, the Challenger and Bhopal have highlighted the fact that in seeking the causes of many modern large-scale acci­dents, we must now consider that un­der­standing the interaction between technol­ogy and organizational failings is a key.

Safety culture

The concept of safety culture is often pre­sented separately from an organizations other char­acteristics, such as the work sched­ule, tech­no­logy, business strategy and finan­cial deci­sion- making. Reiman and Oedewald reveal that this conceptual separation of safety culture re­duces the term to refer only to factors that are clearly connected with safety, such as safety attitudes and safety val­ues. Although it has been widely used for many years (since the 1980s), the concept of safety culture is not precisely clear and it still remains largely “ill defined” (11), (12). But at the same time, there is no uncertainty over the relevance or significance of the con­cept (13).

The term safety culture was first introduced in INSAGs Summary Report on the Post-Ac­cident Review Meeting on the Chernobyl Accident, published by the IAEA as Safety Se­ries No. 75-INSAG-1 in 1986, and was fur­ther expanded on in Basic Safety Princi­ples for Nuclear Power Plants, Safety Series No. 75-INSAG-3, issued in 1988 (14). The re­port (INSAG-4) concludes that safety cul­ture is now a commonly-used term and that it is im­portant to give practical value to the concept. This concept of safety culture was in­tro­duced as a means of explaining how the lack of knowledge and understanding of risk and safety by the employees and organiza­tion con­tributed to the outcome of the disas­ter.

Since its introduction, a number of defini­tions of safety culture have been introduced. Two of the most prominent and most-com­monly used definitions are The U.K. Health and Safety Com-mission, which describes safety culture as: “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 or­ganiza­tions health and safety manage­ment” (16).

And Advisory Committee on the Safety of Nu­clear Installations (ACSNI) (yr), that de­scribes safety culture as: “The safety culture of an or­ganization is 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 organizations health and safety management.”

Positive safety culture

Developing and maintaining a positive safety culture can be an effective tool for im­prov­ing safety within any organization (17). Rea­son (18) considers an ideal safety culture to be “the engine that drives the system to­wards the goal of sustaining the maximum re­sis­tance towards its operational hazards” (p. 294) Rea­son maintains this goal should be achieved irrespective of the organizations leader or cur­rent commercial concerns. What drives the system is a constant level of re­spect for any­thing that may bypass organiza­tional safety sy­stems. In other words, it is im­portant to re­member what can go wrong. It is very dan­gerous to think that an organiza­tion is safe because no information is saying otherwise. The challenge is how to develop a culture that is favourable to good safety perform­ance. Hale (19) has listed a num­ber of ele­ments for a good safety cul­ture, these in­clude importance to safety; in­volvement of workers at all levels; role of safety staff; the caring trust (that all parties to have a watchful eye and helping hand to cope with inevitable slips and blunders); open­ness in communication; belief in safety improvements; and integration of safety into the organization.


Summarizing the experience from the previ­ous research works, a questionnaire survey was developed and conducted during the pe­riod of January 2007 to March 2007 for re­fin­ery personnel in Isfahan Iran. The tar­geted respondents are classified into three groups: top management, supervisory staff and workers. The questionnaires are divided into two parts; Part 1: general information and Part 2:59 at­titude statements on a 15 Likert scale, rang­ing from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The first part of question­naire is designed to identify safety-related char­acteristics, including education level, any involvement in site safety promotion ac­tivities and job position. The 59 attitude state­ments in second part of ques­tion­naire were designed on the basis of the hy­potheses set in this study and the question­naires devel­oped by the

Health & Safety Executive in United King­dom HSE, [HSCST]

Loughborough Safety Climate Assessment Toolkit [LSCAT]

Computerised Safety Climate Questionnaire [CSCQ]

Offshore Safety Climate Questionnaire [OSQ99]

A total of 10 testable factors that summa­rized as groups of statements have been identi­fied in Part 2 of the survey. These fac­tors are described as follows:

Factor 1 (F1): Training and competence,

Factor 2 (F2): Pressure for production and Safety,

Factor 3 (F3): Communication,

Factor 4 (F4): Personal involvement in health and safety,

Factor 5 (F5): Accident/Incidents/Near misses,

Factor 6 (F6): Organizational/management com­mitment to health and safety

Factor 7 (F7): Supervisors/Immediate bosses/ Line managers,

Factor 8 (F8): Health and safety proce­dures/ Instructions/rules,

Factor 9 (F9): Workforce view on state of safety culture,

Factor 10 (10): Rule breaking

The ten factors/dimensions included in the ques­tionnaire were already well-established ones derived form the literature. The paramet­ric tests, independent sample t-test and analysis of variance (ANOVA), were em­ployed to de­termine if any difference oc­curred in the sam­ple would also reflect the same results in a real population or only oc­curred by chance. Inter-correlation between 10 testable factors was also conducted using Pearson correlation test. All data from safety culture were analyzed with Statistical Pack­age for Social Sciences Version 11.0 (SPSS 11.0).


A total of 301 refinery personnel responded in this survey, in which there were 11 man­agers, 53 supervisors and 273orkers within the three groups. There was no need to sta­tistically determine a sample as all the staffs included in the study.

As confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) pos­tu­lates a model (particular set of linkages be­tween the observed variables and their un­der­lying factors) and then test this model statis­ti­cally examining the degree to which it fits with the available data, these data were subject to a confirmatory factor analysis.

Incremental fit indices measure the propor­tion­ate improvement in fit by compar­ing a target model with a restricted baseline model, usually a null model in which all the ob­served variables are independent.

The comparative fit index (CFI) was used as it is one of the best fit indices. A value of around 0.9 is accepted as indicating good model fit.

Table 1: shows each item with its standardized factor loadings, all of which were statistically significant at the 0.5 level



Training and competence,

Pressure for production and Safety,


Personal involvement in health and safety,

Accident/Incidents/Near misses,

Organizational/management commitment to health and safety

Supervisors/Immediate bosses/Line managers,

Health and safety procedures/Instructions/rules,

Workforce view on state of safety culture,











Reliabilities of the safety culture survey

Before conducting the survey, a pilot study was carried out to check out the first draft of the questionnaire. 20 members of previously mentioned organization were randomly cho­sen to fill out the questionnaires. They were then interviewed and their feedbacks were col­lected. This made omission of some vague an ambiguous statements and convert­ing a few other ones. Having designed the fi­nal ver­sion of the questionnaire, the internal-con­sis­tency reliability of the safety culture sur­vey was tested with a coefficient alpha of 0.83. (α= 0.83)

Mean scores for the three groups of respon­dents with respect to 10 testable factors

Referring to Table 2, the range of mean scores of 8 testable factors got from all tar­geted respondents was from 2.06 to 3.95 (aver­age scores= 2.47). For ease of compari­son, the mean scores were resulted from the sum of scores by the numbers of statements for each testable factor. The over­all results in­dicated that the management group got higher mean scores for each of the factors than the worker group, followed by the supervi­sory staff.

Table 2: Mean scores and Safety culture divergences for the three groups


Mean scores for

management group


Mean scores for supervi­sory staff group

(N =53)

Mean scores for worker

group (N =273)

Mean scores for all


(N =301)



















































Average scores





Safety culture divergences among the three groups, thus, would be occurred. The degree of significance for their differences on each of the testable factors and the implications will be discussed in the section of ‘‘safety cul­ture di­vergences among three groups of re­spondents’’.

Inter-correlation between 10 testable fac­tors

All testable factors are positively correlated to and statistically significant with another one. Organizational/management commit­ment to health and safety has the most consid­erable correlations with other factors. This rein­forced the idea that high organiza­tional/man­agement commitment to health and safety would be strongly associated with cultivating a positive and dynamic safety cul­ture. Thus Since the ex­tent of people's com­mitment to an organiza­tion has impor­tant implications on fun­ctioning of many as­pects of organization life, each of which ex­erts effects on safety related issue to certain extent.

Safety culture divergences among three groups of respondents

In order to investigate safety cultural diver­gences between three groups of respondents, including managers, supervisory staffs and work-ers, ANOVA was used to carry out the ana­lysis. The Tukey test was then used to ex­amine which specific pairs of means are sig­nificantly different with respect to 10 test­able factors at 5% significant level.

The difference in the average scores of 10 test­able factors for three groups of respon­dents has been shown in Table 2 before. To further investigate the safety culture diver­gence among the respondents, the cor­re­spond­ing F values and significant differ­ences re­garding each factor for three groups of re­spondents are tested. The results indicate that there is significant difference in all testable fac­tors. This is in line with the hy­pothesis that there are differences in safety attitudes among the three workforce levels: top management, supervisory staff and work­ers.

The safety culture divergences for the three groups of respondents were further explored by Tukey test with respect to 10 testable fac­tors. The results indicate that the manage­ment group and the worker group have signifi­cant difference in all testable factors. The signifi­cant difference is also found be­tween supervi­sory staff group and worker group for all test­able factors except F1, F2, and F4. There is also significant difference between manage­ment group and supervisory staff group in all test­able factors. It demon­strates that safety culture divergences are mainly occurred between man­agement and su­pervisory staff, and man­agement and worker group respectively.


The results from the Safety Culture Survey in­dicate that good organiza­tional/management commitment to health and safety has the most considerable correla­tions with other safety cul­ture factors. This is in line with the results from previous studies in this field. Dedob­beleer and Beland (20) in a review of safety climate surveys found evi­dence for two main factors, one of which they identi­fied as man­agement commitment. Thompson et al. (21) sug­gests that senior man­agers support safety through indirect means such as establishing safety poli­cies and proce­dures, setting pro­duction goals etc. While su­pervisors act as the link between man­age­ment and shop floor, they monitor work­er compliance to safety and provide feed­back to workers concerning their behav­ior.

The major drawback in relying on employ­ees perceptions of management commit­ment is that they may be subject to negative stereotyping by other staff, perhaps because of existing mistrust within the work place such as trade union and management dis­putes. Therefore, how manage­ments atti­tudes are transmitted to em­ployees needs to be considered to ensure that manage­ment commitment to safety is per­ceived by them ac­curately.

Fung (22) mentions a divergence among man­agement, supervisory and worker groups re­spectively. The mean scores of this study have been reported as 3.25 for workers 3.44 for supervisors and 3.79 for managers. The same situation was also attributed to Cheyne and Cox (23) safety culture survey and Clark (10) in an automobile manufactur­ing plant and A SA EK (24) in Swedish air traf­fic control. How­ever, in this study supervi­sors carried a more negative view on safety culture, which might be related to the fact that they normally assume overall respon­sibility for their subordinate. There also exists quite a competitive atmosphere be­tween managers and supervisors, not let­ting them to get along with each other

Based on the findings, it is believed that if the more communication between the man­age­ment team and supervisory and their sub­ordinates (worker), the more organiza­tional com-­mitted for their employees be­comes. Gradu­ally, a good safety culture can be built up within the organization and the em­ployees, in turn, are willing to follow the guidance as stated in the safety policies (i.e., accident reporting system) set up by their or­ganizations Glendon and Mc­kenna (25) sug­gest that organizations with a po­sitive safety culture are characterized by ef­fective commu­nication. The Cullen inquiry into Lad­broke Grove (26) also emphasized commu­nications as a key task for manage­ment. The in­quiry found that within the rail­way industry the quality and standard of safety meetings varied considerably. The in­quiry stressed the impor­tance of safety meet­ings and how they assist the two-way commu­nication process between manage­ment and the workforce. The inquiry also rec­ognized that effective communications make employ­ees feel valued as well as fos­ter­ing trust and respect between manage­ment and employ­ees. Apart from these, peer group's pressure also influences their work­mates be­havior to one another. When more and more em­ploy­ees behave safely on their jobs, they will lead as good examples. It helps to raise the safety awareness for the rest of the employees. Furthermore, once the safety concept is es­tab­lished in the employ­ees minds, with an ef­fective administration and management sys­tem of the organization, staff will have much more confident to tackle any obstacles and diffi­cul­ties relating to safety issue.


The authors would like to thank Tar Refin­ery in Zob Ahan Company officials in Isfa­han Iran and Isfahan Medical University for funding this research.

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interests.


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