Day Five

The final day was used for summing up and discussing some stuff that participants felt had been left out.

Safety Culture

Upon popular demand Safety Culture became the first subject. Some of the discussion was centred around some mainstream applications of the notion of safety culture and the assumptions that underpinned this. More useful I found the discussion around the two approaches to safety culture (with reference to Frank Guldenmund’s work): Interpretist and Functionalist. The most often used notions of Safety Culture clearly come from the latter approach.


  • Roots in organisational psychology
  • Top-down
  • Culture is something the organisation has and owns 
  • Culture, which is transmitted to its members via communication, reinforcement, etc.
  • Corporate culture
  • Ideal organisational culture exists and is strived for
  • Culture can be designed, created, engineered and measured
  • Culture is manipulated or controlled to serve corporate interests - management, ideology, policy, goals, strategy, etc.
  • Primacy of work-as-imagined
  • Normative
  • Common tools: quantitative, surveys, statistics, structure.


  • Roots in sociology and antropology
  • Bottum-up
  • Culture is something the organisation does
  • Culture is created by groups as they learn to adapt to the environment. Culture is
    taught to new members - how to think and what to do.
  • Sub-cultures
  • No generic ideal culture exists
  • Culture is a complex emergent phenomenon - influenced by system in ways that are hard to predict
  • Culture emerges to allow to groups to interpret and reinforce collective identity, beliefs and behaviours, and to aid communication, discovery and learning
  • Primacy of work-as-done
  • Descriptive
  • Common tools: qualitative, interviews, observation, participation.

How did the concept come into existence at all? Combination of: 

  1. Scientific availability of theories about organisational culture (the work of Schein
  2. Political/societal need for explaining accidents (e.g. Chernobyl, Herald of Free Enterprise)
  3. The use of the concept and language of safety culture as an explanatory model by scientists, accident investigators and managers. By doing so it legitimized its use. This is probably another good example of how our understanding of reality is shaped by our theories and ideas (Barry Schwartz).

Eventually it became an easy way out for explaining things. Especially because the mainstream applications of Safety Culture fit quite nicely with the bureaucratic machinery and safety management systems. In essence these approaches are very behaviourist.


Not much time was left to look at possible ways of looking at trends in a Resilience Engineering framework. Some examples from a recent thesis were show and Smokes cautioned that Data does not equal Information and nor do Reports imply Answers.

Numbers are not important - it’s the quality of the information and what is done with it.

Setting a measure and getting a good score does not automatically improve real performance.

Collecting and monitoring does not automatically change things for the better (Hawthorne effect notwithstanding).

The we briefly looked at some possible proactive approaches from Resilience Engineering, including a paper by David Woods that measured things along two axis: Safety-Economy and Reactive-Proactive. Also we looked briefly at a healthcare example from the Health Foundation.

Smokes closed by remarking that “A big part of resilience engineering is about understanding weak signals”. Which is interesting because this provides kind of a full-circle back to the underlying idea of Heinrich’s pyramid. But that echoed also in the final discussion where some speculation passed about what would be next. Would Safety 3 be something about resilience because of systems (current RE very much focuses on resilience despite systems) or are we returning to Safety 1?!


And then the Learning Lab was over way too soon - a week well spend with a great assembly of peers, enthusiastic teachers, great discussions and much learning indeed. This summary can obviously only scratch the surface of five intense days in Lund (not mentioning that you don’t get the knowledgeable and enthusiastic teachers or discussions and reflections from engaged peers). Intense but worth your while - recommended for safety professionals who are really interested in enhancing and the width and depth of their professional knowledge!


A rather funny incident happened at the end of the Learning Lab when we went outside for a group picture. One of the participants had brought a proper ‘old-fashioned’ camera which was used to shoot the scene. In order to get everyone on the picture some passing Japanese students were asked if they could take the picture. They were willing, but Riccardo needed quite some time to explain to them how to use the camera. You could clearly see them wondering: “How on earth are you going to ring someone or update your Facebook status with this thing?!”