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Risk, Trust, and Safety Culture in U.K. Train Operating Companies

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Organizational safety culture reflects the attitudes and behaviors that individuals share in considering and reacting to hazards and risks. We first argue that trust is an underdeveloped and important concept in relation to theories of safety culture and high-reliability organizations. The article then reports findings from a two-year qualitative study of train operating companies (TOCs) in the United Kingdom, which sought to explore in detail the linkages between safety culture and the postprivatized railway industry. In-depth interviews and focus groups were carried out with a sample of over 500 employees, from four organizations, and representing all key functional levels. Our analysis suggests that the 1993 privatization, and subsequent organizational restructuring of the U.K. railway industry, has had important repercussions for both safety culture and trust relationships. We explore our findings in relation to three key constructs within “safe organizations” theories (namely, flexibility, commitment, and learning), and discuss how the safe organization model might be usefully supplemented by a consideration of trust issues.

Keywords: High-reliability organizations; U.K. railway industry; qualitative research; safety culture; trust

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3AT, Wales, UK. 2: Health and Safety Laboratory, Harpur Hill, Buxton SK17 9JN, UK. 3: Centre for Environmental Risk, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK.

Publication date: October 1, 2006


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