Organisational change and safety culture: the impact of communication

  • Caroline R.J. Horbury

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This research examines and explains the links between safety culture and communication. Safety culture is a concept that in recent years has gained prominence but there has been little applied research conducted to investigate the meaning of the concept in 'real life' settings. This research focused on a Train Operating Company undergoing change in a move towards privatisation. These changes were evident in the management of safety, the organisation of the industry and internally in their management. The Train Operating Company's management took steps to improve their safety culture and communications through the development of a cascade communication structure. The research framework employed a qualitative methodology in order to investigate the effect of the new system on safety culture. Findings of the research were that communications in the organisation failed to be effective for a number of reasons, including both cultural and logistical problems. The cultural problems related to a lack of trust in the organisation by the management and the workforce, the perception of communications as management propaganda, and asyntonic communications between those involved, whilst logistical problems related to the inherent difficulties of communicating over a geographically distributed network. An organisational learning framework was used to explain the results. It is postulated that one of the principal reasons why change, either to the safety culture or to communications, did not occur was because of the organisation's inability to learn. The research has also shown the crucial importance of trust between the members of the organisation, as this was one of the fundamental reasons why the safety culture did not change, and why safety management systems were not fully implemented. This is consistent with the notion of mutual trust in the HSC (1993) definition of safety culture. This research has highlighted its relevance to safety culture and its importance for organisational change.
Date of Award1996
Original languageEnglish


  • Organisational change
  • safety culture
  • communication

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