Safety Climate: A leading safety indicator – backed by science
Our Mission: Ensuring individuals’ well-being through promoting safety climate and culture in the workplace.
In recent years, safety climate has captured the attention of companies and scientists looking to reduce accidents and injuries. A leading indicator of safety outcomes, safety climate reflects what happens when the rubber (safety decisions and protocols) meets the road (competing demands such as production and delivery deadlines). Safety Climate can be seen as an organization’s temporal “state of safety,” a snapshot of the prevailing state of safety with the organization at a discrete point in time.
Organizational safety climate and organizational safety culture are related, but distinctly different, phenomena. Safety climate is defined in the scientific literature as employees’ shared perceptions of the organization’s workplace safety policies, procedures, and practices as they relate to the value and importance of safety within the organization. Safety culture is defined as shared safety values and beliefs that interact with an organization’s structures and control systems to produce behavioral norms. Safety climate is the measurable aspect of safety culture and research indicates these measures can be used to predict safety-related outcomes (e.g., accidents and injuries) and safety behavior.
Despite what looks like a strong emphasis on safety, a company may have a poor safety climate. That means that even in organizations that have implemented safety programs and protocols, when business demands are high, safety may take a backseat to other priorities such as productivity and efficiency.
Risk managers can assess safety at a company by surveying workers about management’s commitment to and support of safety and health.
Safety climate is a leading indicator of safety outcomes and is the measurable dimension of organizational safety culture.
Companies that understand and monitor safety climate can identify where problems may lie and take appropriate steps to proactively improve safety.
Safety climate can help companies recognize and address emerging problems before accidents happen.
Practical application of the safety climate survey can help companies identify ways to make focused adjustments to safety management systems that, over time, can strengthen their safety culture.
- Safety climate has a significant impact on lone workers’ safety outcomes, such as truck drivers and utility workers. When a company has good safety climate, their employees behave more safely and have fewer workplace injuries, even when no one is monitoring/watching/looking at them (e.g., Huang et al., 2013a, 2013b).
- Supervisors or workers: who rates? Our prior data showed that supervisors consistently score safety climate higher than workers do, and that their responses are not predictive of safety outcomes (Huang et al., 2014).
- The impact of safety climate is beyond safety outcomes; when a company has good safety climate, their employees have a higher level of job satisfaction, and job engagement, and the turnover rate is lower (Huang et al., 2016).
- Two levels of safety climate (organizational level “OSC” vs. group level “GSC”) significantly interacted with one another to predict safety behavior such that if either the OSC or GSC scores were low, the other’s contribution to safety behavior became stronger. These findings suggest that OSC and GSC may function in a compensatory manner and promote safe driving behavior even when either OSC or GSC scores are low. The results of this study provide critical insight into the supplementary interaction between perceptions of OSC and GSC (Huang et al., 2017).
- Short generic safety climate scale: Using an IRT analytical approach, one prior study from the research team developed shortened versions of Zohar and Luria’s (2005) 16-item OSC and 16-item GSC scales. Specifically, 8 OSC and 11 GSC items were identified with above-average discriminating ability, and further selected 4 OSC and 4 GSC items that retained at least 30% of the original total test information. It is our expectation that these shortened safety climate scales will increase the utility of safety climate assessments in both research and practice (Huang et al., 2017).
- Relationship between safety communication and safety climate: Results of this study showed that the quality of supervisor communication about safety uniquely contributes to safety outcomes, above and beyond measures of both group-level and organization-level safety climate. The construct validity of a newly-adapted safety communication scale was demonstrated, particularly focusing on its distinctiveness from safety climate and testing a model showing that communication had both main and moderating effects on safety behavior that ultimately predicted truck drivers’ injury rates. Our findings support the need for continued attention to supervisory safety communication as an important factor by itself, as well as a contingency factor influencing how safety climate relates to safety outcomes (Huang et al., 2018).
XXXXXXXX, VP Safety & General Counsel
- “We also enjoyed meeting with you and learning the results of your research. The information will prove invaluable in the future development of safety culture...we look forward to working with you further. Please don’t hesitate to call if the opportunity arises to work together in the future.”
XXXXXXXX, Director Driver Training
- “The experience was far better than we imagined. It was a true pleasure working with you and your team. The benefits of the study will provide many helpful insights for months to come…actually using some of the results in a training piece I am putting together…Hope to have future opportunities to work together again.”
XXXXXXXX, VP Safety
- “Glad we could participate. I would like to thank you, XXX & XXXXX for presenting the findings of the survey and sparking some much needed conversation among the various departments at XX XXXXXX.”
XXXXXXXXX, Sr. VP & CFO
- “XXXXX, It was a real pleasure meeting you and XXXXX. We found the presentation to be extremely enlightening and feel it has given us new insight into what our focus should be in our overall program of reducing our accidents and improving our drivers’ impression of the company and managers’ commitment to safety. Thank you again for giving us the opportunity to participate in this very important study.”
XXXXXXXXXXX, Safety Director
- “We truly appreciate the opportunity you and your associates gave us to be included in your project and all that we learned from it. We’re reviewing the information and will be making changes where needed.”
XXXXXXXXX, VP Safety, Health & Environment
- “It was our pleasure. We can't thank XXXXX XXXXX enough for all the time and effort to help us better understand our safety climate and the steps we need to take to improve it. The workshop was both interesting and enlightening.”
Dr. Emily Huang’s research team focuses on improving the quality of life for individuals through building a healthy and safe workplace, mainly through improving organizational safety culture and climate. Over the past two decades, Dr. Huang has developed and applied an interdisciplinary approach in order to ensure employees’ health, well-being and safety at work. Besides conducting scientific research, her team has also provided consulting services to the field by putting scientific approaches into practice. In addition, her lab is focusing on examining and evaluating possible interventions that could help improve workplace safety culture and climate and, in turn, promote organizational and societal well-being.
Some of Dr. Huang’s current research projects involve field applications that aim to improve safety culture and safety climate at work through various aspects, such as promoting management commitment
- Reality-to-Research: Utilizing Safety Climate Survey data to Advance Safety Climate Research
- Purposes: continue collecting safety climate data from companies by implementing safety climate surveys to build the database and provide benchmarks.
- A systematic review of the safety climate intervention literature: Past trends and future directions. Lee J, Huang YH, Cheung JH, Chen Z, Shaw WS. J Occup Health Psychol. 2019: 10.1037/ocp0000113. PMID: 29697992
- Does talking the talk matter? Effects of supervisor safety communication and safety climate on long-haul truckers' safety performance. Huang YH, Sinclair RR, Lee J, McFadden AC, Cheung JH, Murphy LA. Accid Anal Prev. 2018 Aug;117:357-367. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2017.09.006. Epub 2018 Feb 28. PMID:29500055
- A sociotechnical systems approach to enhance safety climate in the trucking industry: Development of a methodology. Murphy LA, Robertson MM, Huang YH, Jeffries S, Dainoff MJ. Appl Ergon. 2018 Jan;66:82-88. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2017.08.001. Epub 2017 Aug 29. PMID: 28958433
- A sociotechnical systems approach to enhance safety climate in the trucking industry: Results of an in-depth investigation. Murphy LA, Huang YH, Robertson MM, Jeffries S, Dainoff MJ. Appl Ergon. 2018 Jan;66:70-81. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2017.08.002. Epub 2017 Aug 29. PMID: 28958432
- Use of portable ladders - field observations and self-reported safety performance in the cable TV industry. Chang WR, Huang YH, Brunette C, Lee J. Ergonomics. 2017 Nov;60(11):1540-1550. doi: 10.1080/00140139.2017.1332392. Epub 2017 Jul 14. PMID: 28705111
- Improvements in musculoskeletal health and computing behaviors: Effects of a macroergonomics office workplace and training intervention. Robertson MM, Huang YH, Lee J. Appl Ergon. 2017 Jul;62:182-196. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2017.02.017. Epub 2017 Apr 6. PMID: 28411728
- An item-response theory approach to safety climate measurement: The Liberty Mutual Safety Climate Short Scales. Huang YH, Lee J, Chen Z, Perry M, Cheung JH, Wang M. Accid Anal Prev. 2017 Jun;103:96-104. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2017.03.015. Epub 2017 Apr 7. PMID: 28391093
- Individual employee's perceptions of " Group-level Safety Climate" (supervisor referenced) versus " Organization-level Safety Climate" (top management referenced): Associations with safety outcomes for lone workers. Huang YH, Lee J, McFadden AC, Rineer J, Robertson MM. Accid Anal Prev. 2017 Jan;98:37-45. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2016.09.016. Epub 2016 Sep 28. PMID: 27685174
- Straight ladder inclined angle in a field environment: the relationship among actual angle, method of set-up and knowledge. Chang WR, Huang YH, Chang CC, Brunette C, Fallentin N. Ergonomics. 2016 Aug;59(8):1100-8. doi: 10.1080/00140139.2015.1115897. Epub 2016 Mar 23. PMID: 26672809
- Beyond safety outcomes: An investigation of the impact of safety climate on job satisfaction, employee engagement and turnover using social exchange theory as the theoretical framework. Huang YH, Lee J, McFadden AC, Murphy LA, Robertson MM, Cheung JH, Zohar D. Appl Ergon. 2016 Jul;55:248-257. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2015.10.007. Epub 2015 Nov 21. PMID: 26611987
Anna Kelly - Project Coordinator
Anna Kelly is the Project Coordinator for Dr. Emily Huang’s Safety Climate Lab in the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and Portland State University in Art and Psychology. Her professional experience includes executive and operations coordination in international arts, non-profit, corporate, and academic settings. Anna is dedicated to putting research into practice with a focus on safety, occupational health, and employee well-being.
Yimin He - Senior Research Assistant
Yimin He is a senior research assistant at OHSU and a doctoral student (Ph.D. Candidate) in I/O psychology at Texas A&M University. She earned her M.S. degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Texas A&M University and her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Peking University. Yimin’s research interests include occupational health psychology, diversity and inclusion, personality assessments, social network, and quantitative methodologies.
Elisa Rega - Project Specialist:
Elisa Rega is a Project Specialist for Dr. Emily Huang’s Safety Climate Lab and earned a B.A. in Psychology from Oberlin College. Previously, Elisa conducted research at the National Chengchi University in Taipei, Taiwan and published articles on creativity training. Some research interests include occupational injury prevention, intervention design, dissemination, mindfulness, autism, sleep, diversity and inclusion, game based learning, memory, and music and cognition. In addition to psychology research, Elisa is a concert violist who has performed in orchestras internationally, and teaches music.
Jessie Zhen - Project Specialist
Jessie Zhen is the project specialist/research assistant in Dr. Emily Huang’s lab and a graduate student in Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. She earned her B.A. in Psychology and Economics, with concentrations in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and Health Economics from Portland State University. She is interested in exploring topics in health, safety and well-being in the workplace, especially for disadvantaged working populations.
Peg Rothwell - Research Associate
Peg Rothwell serves as a safety climate subject matter expert for the team. She has worked with Dr. Emily Huang on safety climate and culture projects for over 18 years. Peg has a background in education with a B.S. in Education from Kent State University in Ohio. She has over 20 years of experience assisting safety research in various disciplines, e.g., engineering, physical ergonomics, epidemiology, behavioral/social sciences, and disability/return to work.
Angela Garabet - Senior Research Associate:
Angela Garabet is a senior research associate at OHSU and a specialist in data analysis and survey administration. She received her MASc in Systems Design Engineering from the University of Waterloo and a BSc in Physical Science from Toronto University. Angela’s specialties are Data Science, Human Factors/User Research and Systems Thinking. She has worked with Dr. Huang on safety climate projects for over 10 years.
Primary Research Collaborators
Dov Zohar, Ph.D.
Dr. Dov Zohar is a Professor and Faculty of IE & Management at the Technion – Israel Institute of technology. In 1980 he published the foremost paper on Safety Climate, defining the concept and developing the original measurement scale, a current standard in the field. His recent work has focused on development of a conceptual model linking organizational culture and climate; testing incremental effects of industry-specific safety climate scales; new strategies for safety leadership and safety climate improvement and the effect of sustainability policy-practice gaps. His work throughout the world has garnered him numerous awards including the Human Factors & Ergonomics Award for the Outstanding Scientific Contribution in 1981 and 1982; APA/CDC Best Safety Intervention Awards in 2003 and 2013; and the American Psychological Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
- Mo Wang, Ph.D.
Dr. Mo Wang is the Lanzillotti-McKethan Eminent Scholar Chair at the Warrington College of Business at University of Florida. He is also the Department Chair of the Management Department, as well as the Director of Human Resource Research Center at University of Florida. He specializes in research areas of retirement and older worker employment, occupational health psychology, expatriate and newcomer adjustment, leadership and team processes, and advanced quantitative methodologies. https://warrington.ufl.edu/directory/person/5309/
- Jin Lee, Ph.D.
Dr. Lee is an Assistant Professor of the Department of Psychological Sciences at the Kansas State University and a director of the Work Systems & Occupational Health Psychology lab. He got his Ph.D. and M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at the University of Connecticut and his M.A. in Clinical Psychology at the Yonsei University (Seoul, South Korea). Dr. Lee’s research focus is primarily on workplace safety, health, and well-being promotion. Specifically, he holds research interests in safety climate assessment and management in high-risk industries, and the application of advanced quantitative methodology in multidisciplinary research efforts.
- Theodore K. Courtney, MS, CSP
With over 25 years’ experience in safety and health research and consulting, Ted Courtney brings unique insight into improving today’s workplace challenges. Ted is currently President of TKC Consulting, LLC, a research and innovation consulting firm, Vice President for Product Strategy at Concorde Health, Inc., and Instructor in Injury, Safety and Ergonomics at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. At Liberty Mutual for many years previously, Ted played key roles in the development of the Workplace Safety Index including widely-cited CFO surveys of injury and safety costs, perception-based falls risk assessment, and safety climate research in retail settings.
- Marvin Dainoff, Ph.D.
Dr. Dainoff is a research scientist/leader with extensive experience in optimization of human-technology interaction with specific focus on integration of effectiveness (accomplishment of mission), efficiency (optimization of resources), and safety (avoidance of injury, damage) at both organizational and individual levels. e hadHHe has conducted and/or facilitated leading-edge scientific research on technology impacts on workplace and surface transportation with emphasis on translation from research to practice reflected in years of service on technical standards committees and practical expertise in ergonomic training for users. Dr. Dainoff is a Board Certified Professional Ergonomist (CPE) with experience in research, teaching, and professional service.
- Lauren Murphy, Ph.D.
Dr. Murphy is an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences at Northeastern University in Boston. Her primary role is as the Director of the Occupational Ergonomics and Health program, which focuses on a graduate certificate for current students and working professionals. Dr. Murphy completed her Ph.D. in industrial/organizational psychology with a concentration in occupational health psychology at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. Her current research projects involve examining safety climate in the trucking and construction industries, as well as investigating work-family issues as they relate to workers’ health and safety outcomes.
- Larry Hettinger, Ph.D.
Dr. Hettinger is a researcher and consultant in the areas of performance and safety in complex work systems. His career has focused on identifying and improving organizational and technical influences on system performance.
- Michelle M. Robertson, Ph.D.
Dr. Robertson is a board certified Professional Ergonomist and received her PhD in Instructional Technology, M.S. in Systems Management, from the University of Southern California and her B.A. in Human Factors from the University of California at Santa Barbara. She conducts applied field and laboratory research projects in human factors/ergonomics and management.