Safety Culture

It is probably just as difficult to explain what a safety culture is as to explain what good seamanship means. If you ask ten different experts, you will probably get ten different answers.

>> Read article about Safety Culture from ISF - International Shipping Federation

>> Read about the 8 Safety Links

How do people behave in a shipboard culture?

A culture is affected by the people that are part of it and by those that observe it. When experts, consultants and inspectors are not present and people are just attending to their duties, we see the culture as it really is.

However, an observer can get an impression of a safety culture for example by observing and listening to the way people talk about safety issues in the mess during tea breaks.

When safety issues are discussed, do they listen carefully or do people treat it all as a bit of a joke? In fact, how is safety in general regarded, spoken of and thought about by individuals and the whole group?

In reality, how good is the safety culture on a vessel - for example where procedures, risk assessments and permits have all been drawn up and are in nice binders on the bridge?

Safety meetings maybe held in line with the rules and the boxes on checklists ticked practically everywhere while for the sixth time, a rating is sitting on deck with a nail gun chipping rust without safety glasses, gloves or ear defenders.

Another rating may be climbing down a ladder into a tank before checking for poisonous fumes and the risk of the explosion. No safety culture is stronger than its weakest link. That is precisely where the safety culture can be measured.

So what is a safety culture? Despite many opinions, we should like to give our version based on our expertise in the area.

A safety culture consists of….

..the common values, work routines (habits) and attitudes in a shipping company. The culture is the environment that shapes these values, attitudes, etc., and which affects the way we behave. An organisation’s safety culture is the result of a number of factors such as:

  • The standards, attitudes and assumptions of management and employees
  • Values, myths and history
  • Policies and procedures
  • The manager's priorities, responsibilities and reliability
  • Production and bottom line pressures on quality
  • Action (or lack of action) when it comes to changing unsafe behaviour.
  • Crew training and motivation
  • Crew involvement and acceptance.

High level of safety culture means low staff turnover

In an environment with a high level safety culture, everyone feels responsible for safety and tries to comply on a daily basis. The crew go further than required to identify unsafe practices and behaviour and they take action to put them right.

For example, the crew would feel that it is acceptable for a rating to go to the captain and remind him to wear safety glasses. Such behaviour should not be seen as over-enthusiastic or "over the top" but should be appreciated by the organisation and rewarded. In the same way, workmates should routinely look out for each other and give reminders about unsafe practices.

A company with a high level safety culture typically only sees few instances of risky behaviour. Our experience nowadays is that companies with high levels of safety report low accident figures, low replacement rates for crew, less crew absence and high productivity levels.

It takes time to establish a safety culture. It is a process that can take many years and may involve a range of ongoing, step-by-step process improvements in order to create a better safety culture.

The commitment of employers and employees is the stamp of the optimum safety culture in which safety forms an integral part of day-to-day operations.


Out of many versions, the UK - Health and Safety Commission's definition from 1993 is the most widely used:

"The safety culture of an organisation is the product of individual and group values, attitudes, competencies, and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organisation's health and safety programs." 

"Organisations with a positive safety culture are characterized by communications founded by mutual trust, by shared perceptions of importance of safety, and by confidence in efficiency of preventative measures."

Senior Occupational Health Consultant

Søren Bøge Pedersen

+45 3311 1833

+45 5364 1609

I can help you with:

  • The 8 Safety Links
  • Accident prevention in general
  • Guidance on mooring
  • Welfare-enhancing projects
  • Consultancy
  • The program Health and Safety at Sea