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An organisation’s safety culture is a potentially strong predictor of its WHS performance.

Safety culture: a definition

In a positive safety culture, everyone accepts personal responsibility for ensuring their health and safety and that of others. Supervisors and managers see health and safety as important and the things they do demonstrate their commitment to health and safety.


To inform the design and successful implementation of WHS policy we are carrying out research that focuses on understanding workplace cultures that drive WHS behaviour at both individual and organisational levels.

We want to understand differences in belief systems, attitudes, perceptions and motivations of those in the WHS regulatory system.

Past surveys examined WHS motivations, attitudes, perceptions and behaviours in the context of introducing the model WHS laws in most Australian jurisdictions.

Our most recent research into safety culture revealed that most employers believe they regularly empower workers to influence aspects of their own safety. They do this through:

  • consultation
  • fostering a safe environment
  • making sure workers have a high level of competence regarding safety.

Perceptions of work health and safety

In 2012 we carried out the Perceptions of Work Health and Safety Survey to get a baseline measure of WHS attitudes, beliefs and actions shortly after the model WHS laws were introduced. We published several reports from the findings of this survey (see Reports and case studies).

Motivations, Attitudes, Perceptions and Skills project

Stage One

The first stage of the MAPS project established a baseline measure of the socio-psychological factors that drive behaviour and behavioural intentions regarding WHS obligations.

Data were collected in 2009–10 from 762 Australians aged 18 and over who worked in the five industry groups at high risk of occupational injuries, namely agriculture, forestry and fishing, construction, health and community services, manufacturing, and transport and storage.

Stage Two

second phase of the project ran from 2011–15 and was carried out in partnership with the ANU under an ARC-funded project. It investigated the role motivations, attitudes, perceptions, knowledge and skills, social norms and other socio-psychological factors play in shaping the compliance behaviour of individuals and organisations, and how these groups address WHS matters and comply with WHS regulation. It also examined how regulators seek to influence compliance.

Data were collected from small and medium enterprises in both metropolitan and regional settings in Queensland and South Australia from the manufacturing, construction and health and community services industries and from WHS regulators.

Workplace health and safety, business productivity and sustainability

Leadership and culture is one of the key action areas of the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022. In 2014 we commissioned the Centre for Workplace Leadership at Melbourne University to summarise the evidence that performance is improved when organisations address WHS risks along with other important business risks.

We also commissioned a series of research papers to help businesses measure WHS performance.

Work Ability project

The participation of mature age workers in the workforce is recognised as important to both the Australian economy and those mature age people who want to work. To consider the WHS implications of older workers in the workforce, we carried out the Work Ability project.

Synthesis of Safe Work Australia research findings in priority industries

The Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022 identifies seven industries as national priorities for prevention activities. We have started a series of reports on the priority industries in relation to WHS perceptions, hazard exposures and WHS activities. To date, reports have been prepared on the transport, manufacturing and construction industries.

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