Country HSE Manager, ABB UK and HSE Manager for ABB Motion, ABB

September 27, 2018

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Health & Safety Strategy

Conducting research – The importance of definitions and strategy

David Day, Head of SHE at nuclear specialist Nuvia UK, talks about importance of research planning.

Whilst conducting research into the development of a health culture assessment tool, I came across a review the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work’s 2011 report Occupational health and safety culture assessment: A review of main approaches and selected tools (reference 1). I thought all my Christmases had come at once! However, it was not to be, but a critique of this work taught me a great deal.

The European Agency of Safety and Health at Work’s review

The purpose of the review was to convey contemporary information through the production of a practical guide to the selection of assessment tools for business managers and health and safety professionals. Interestingly, EUOSHA concluded that the organisational culture literature is mainly focused on the concept of safety culture and not health culture leaving the research base of health culture relatively underdeveloped. Subsequently, they found no health culture assessment tools. Contrary to this, my own research did find health culture assessments tools – so what was going on here?

researchIt’s all about definitions! 

In the review, EUOSHA define organisational safety and health (OSH) culture as: ‘OSH culture is about how an organisations’ informal aspects influence OSH in a positive or negative way’. Here, they treat health and safety as the same construct. However, health and safety are often viewed as separate concepts. For example, Bjerkan (2010) (reference 2) posits that safety is a very specific organisational aspect dealing primarily with injury and accident prevention. Whereas for Danna and Griffin (1999) (reference 3), health is a far more reaching idea encompassing specific physiological and psychological symptomology. Perhaps a more fruitful search strategy would have been to separate and extend the context of safety and health culture and use associated terms such as, for example, health culture, organisational health culture etc. Consequently, they may have identified tools such as the Worksite Health and Safety Climate Scale from Basen-Engquist et al (1998) (reference 4) or the Organisational Health Audit from Tri Fit Incorporated (2005) (reference 5).

Strategy, strategy, strategy

Several organisations were involved in the review, for example, the UK’s Health and Safety Laboratory. Collectively, they found total of 16 safety culture assessment tools, which was then reduced to six for evaluation. The inventory of tools suggests the reviewers researched mainly the Westernised academic literature. It could be argued that their search parameters did not dig deep enough. Perhaps broadening their scope, for example to governmental organisations, such as Health Canada, may have yielded more results. For example, if they had searched in the North American literature, they may have identified a study such as the Canadian Health Communication Unit’s 2006 work: Comprehensive Workplace Health Promotion: Recommended and Promising Practices for Situational Assessment from Canada (The Health Communication Unit, 2006) (reference 6). This work critically evaluates 29 health and lifestyle culture assessment tools available to organisations. This study was missed and therefore not brought to the attention of the reader.

What has this taught me?

This has taught me a valuable lesson on research – always define your terms clearly and use a strategy that will give you access to the best information. I know this sounds like common sense but sometimes we need a reminder to think about things before you set off conducting research!


Reference 1 – European Agency of Safety and Health at Work (2011). Occupational health and safety culture assessment: a review of main approaches and selected tools. Available at:
Reference 2 – Bjerkan, A.M. (2010). Health, environment, safety culture and climate. Analysing the relationships to occupational accidents. Journal of Risk Research, 13 (4), 445-447
Reference 3 – Danna, K. and Griffin, R. W. (1999). Health and wellbeing in the workplace: a review
and synthesis of the literature. Journal of Management, 25 (3), 357–384
Reference 4 – Basen-Engquist, K., Suchanek Hudmon, K., Tripp, M. & Chamberlain, R. (1998).  Worksite health and safety climate: scale development and effects of a health promotion intervention. Preventative Medicine, 27, 111-119.
Reference 5 – Tri Fit Incorporated (2005). Organizational Health Audit. Available at:
Reference 6 – The Health Communication Unit (2006). Comprehensive workplace health promotion: recommended and promising practices for situational assessment tools: version 1.02. Available at:

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