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Safety culture in healthcare: a review of concepts, dimensions, measures and progress
  1. Michelle Halligan,
  2. Aleksandra Zecevic
  1. The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Miss Michelle Halligan, The University of Western Ontario, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Graduate Program, Elborn College, 1201 Western Road, London, ON, Canada, N6G 1H1; mhalliga{at}


Background A growing body of peer-reviewed studies demonstrate the importance of safety culture in healthcare safety improvement, but little attention has focused on developing a common set of definitions, dimensions and measures.

Objectives Specific objectives of this literature review include: summarising definitions of safety culture and safety climate, identifying theories, dimensions and measures of safety culture in healthcare, and reviewing progress in improving safety culture.

Methods Peer-reviewed, English-language articles published from 1980 to 2009 pertaining to safety culture in healthcare were reviewed. One hundred and thirty-nine studies were included in this review.

Results Results suggest that there is disagreement among researchers as to how safety culture should be defined, as well as whether or not safety culture is intrinsically diverse from the concept of safety climate. This variance extends into the dimensions and measurement of safety culture, and interventions to influence culture change.

Discussion Most studies utilise quantitative surveys to measure safety culture, and propose improvements in safety by implementing multifaceted interventions targeting several dimensions. Conversely, very few studies made their theoretical underpinnings explicit. Moving forward, a common set of definitions and dimensions will enable researchers to better share information and strategies to improve safety culture in healthcare, building momentum in this rapidly expanding field. Advancing the measurement of safety culture to include both quantitative and qualitative methods should be further explored. Using the expertise of traditional culture experts, anthropologists, more in-depth observational and longitudinal research is needed to move research in this area forward.

  • Safety culture
  • safety climate
  • patient safety
  • healthcare
  • literature review
  • safety culture

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  • Funding Canadian Institutes of Health Research; Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.