Safety culture during major organisational change

  • Bryan O'Loughlin

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This research examines the effect of major changes, in the external context, on the safety culture of a UK generating company. It was focused on an organisation which was originally part of the state owned Central Electricity Generating Board and which, by the end of the research period, was a self-contained generating company, operating in a competitive market and a wholly owned subsidiary of a US utility. The research represents an attempt to identify the nature and culture of the original organisation and to identify, analyse and explain the effects of the forces of change in moulding the final organisation. The research framework employed a qualitative methodology to investigate the effects of change, supported by a safety culture questionnaire, based on factors identified in the third report of the ACSNI Human Factors Study Group; Organising for Safety, as being indicators of safety culture. An additional research objective was to assess the usefulness of the ACSNI factors as indicators of safety culture. Findings were that the original organisation was an engineering dominated technocracy with a technocentric safety culture. Values and beliefs were very strongly held and resistant to change and much of the original safety culture survived unchanged into the new organisation. The effects of very long periods of uncertainty about the future were damaging to management/worker relationships but several factors were identified which effectively insulated the organisation from any of the effects of change. The forces of change had introduced a beneficial appreciation of the crucial relationship between safety risk assessment and commercial risk assessment.Although the technical strength of the original safety culture survived, so did the essential weakness of a low level of appreciation of the human behavioural aspects of safety. This led to a limited, functionalist world view of safety culture, which assumed that cultural change was simpler to achieve than was the case and an inability to make progress in certain areas which were essentially behavioural problems.The factors identified by ACSNI provided a useful basis for the site research methodology and for identifying areas of relative strength and weakness in the site safety arrangements.
Date of Award1998
Original languageEnglish


  • safety culture
  • major organisational change
  • organisational change
  • safety management
  • electricity supply industry

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