Safety culture as a regulatory tool in transport

Researchers at TØI have examined how the concept of safety culture is practiced in different transport sectors in Sweden.

The Swedish Transport Agency has defined safety culture as part of the regulatory strategy. This involves focusing on safety culture in audits (through a 28-point checklist) and in the Transport Agency’s contact with the companies.

A new TØI report examines how this works in practice in the different transport sectors.

Safety culture as a regulatory tool in transport

Woman with safety belt. Photo: Unsplash

Transport accidents represent a serious public health problem. About 1.35 million people die each year on the world’s roads and between 20 and 50 million people sustain non-fatal injuries. Large numbers of people also lose their lives in the maritime sector, including in the fishing sector alone. In 2015, 1.739 people were killed or seriously injured in railway accidents in the EU-28. There were on average 611 worldwide air traffic fatalities each year in the period 2006-2015.

It has therefore been argued that new approaches to safety and safety regulation should be introduced especially in the road sector. Safety culture is an example of such a perspective. The relationship between safety culture and safety outcomes is well documented across industries and countries It is therefore reasonable to assume that it will be useful for regulatory authorities in transport to focus on safety culture in audits and to aid companies in their development of good safety culture.

Safety culture comparison of experience

The present study takes the Transport Agency’s safety culture strategy as its point of departure, and compares whether the different regulatory branches of the agency use the safety culture concept, and if so how they define and assess it in their company audits. The researchers compare this with results from the companies’ in each sectors development of good safety culture as a safety management strategy. They also include experiences from the Swedish nuclear industry, as the nuclear industry is recognized to be in the forefront when it comes to safety culture regulation.

Results indicate that the use, relevance and potential of the concept varies widely among sectors. While there was strong focus on safety culture in aviation and rail, there was little explicit focus in the maritime sector and no explicit focus on in the road sector.

The analysis indicates that sector authorities’ different focus is due to factors like: 1) legislative frameworks, 2) regulatory strategy and priorities, 3) regulatory competence and resources, 4) competence and resources of the transport companies, 5) the business structure of the sectors, 6) trust between regulators and the regulated, 7) different organisational maturity levels within the sectors, and 8) the consideration of equal conditions for competition.

The report is written in English.

Full report: The relevance of safety culture as a regulatory concept and management strategy in professional transport. TOI report: 1668/2018. Authors: Tor-Olav Nævestad and Ross O. Phillips

Tor-Olav Nævestad
Institute of Transport Economics (TØI), Norway


Ross O. Phillips
Institute of Transport Economics (TØI), Norway


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