Safety Culture Discussion Cards

In 2012, I chaired the organising committee of a conference for the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors, and edited the conference proceedings. At this event there were several presentations on the topic of safety culture. A highlight of this session was a presentation called “Safety culture in your hands: Discussion cards for understanding and improving safety culture”, by Steven Shorrock from EUROCONTROL (European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation).

This talk is still memorable today (10 years later, at the time of writing) because it turned an intangible subject into a practical toolkit. Steven and his colleagues had been running a safety culture survey and improvement programme for European air traffic management for many years. To provide a practical resource for people in these organisations to continue the conversation in the gap between safety culture surveys (typically 3 years), Steven created a set of Safety Culture Discussion Cards.

And it was these Cards that Steven presented at this conference. These are a great example of bridging the gap between research and practice. The aim of these cards was to provide a resource to aid discussion and reflection about safety culture by any person or team. Steven kindly provided me with a copy of the cards.

Safety Culture Discussion Cards - Edition 1
Edition 1 of the Safety Culture Discussion Cards (2011)

The physical cards used by EUROCONTROL were printed in colour on A6 card, but are also available free of charge as PDFs. They are available in several European languages. A second edition of the cards was produced in 2019.

The first few cards in the pack explain (very briefly) what safety culture is, show the organisation of the cards (based around the EUROCONTROL safety culture elements), and explain some possibilities for using the cards.

Then, the discussion cards are sorted into eight elements, as follows:

  1. Management Commitment to Safety
  2. Procedure & Training
  3. Staffing & Equipment
  4. Just Culture, Reporting & Investigation
  5. Communication & Learning
  6. Risk Handling
  7. Collaboration & Involvement
  8. Colleague Commitment

How to use the cards

Several cards in the pack describe the various ways that the cards can be used. Here’s a few examples:

Adapting the discussion cards

Shortly after this conference, I joined an oil and gas company as the Human Factors Manager. This company had a safety culture framework and conducted regular safety culture surveys. However, the same question that led EUROCONTROL to develop their cards was raised in this company – how to keep safety culture and the framework alive?

With Steven’s permission, I used the concept to develop a similar set of discussion cards. These cards were based around the four themes of the safety culture framework (rather than the eight elements of the EUROCONTROL cards).

Developing the safety culture discussion cards
Development of Safety Culture Discussion Cards for an oil and gas company. The author gaining input from end-users on the content, design, and uses for the cards (~800 operational people).

Unlike the EUROCONTROL cards, these were not blank on the reverse, but showed which part of the safety culture framework the card belonged to (there were 12 main areas in the framework).

Selected focal points or champions were coached to support the roll-out of these discussion cards. They were valuable in helping all staff to think and talk about safety culture.

Although used in various ways, I found the cards to be really useful for creating ‘safety moments’ in team meetings or toolbox talks. Although you could simply use the cards as they are, consider tailoring the approach for your organisation.

Download the Cards

The cards can be downloaded as a PDF in several languages for Edition 1 and Edition 2. They may be used in accordance with the copyright statement included in the cards (see final card).

Further information

Anderson, M. and Lardner, R. (2015). Let’s talk: Introducing our safety culture discussion cards, APPEA HSE Conference, 8 September 2015, Perth, Australia.

Shorrock, S.T. (2012a). Safety culture in your hands: Discussion cards for understanding and improving safety culture. In M. Anderson (Ed.), Contemporary ergonomics and human factors 2012. London: Taylor and Francis, pp. 321-328.

Safety culture topic page: defines safety culture, why it’s important, and outlines the influences on safety culture. Also discusses ‘just culture’ and provides several links to further guidance.

Safety Culture Discussion Cards. More information about the EUROCONTROL safety culture programme and development of the discussion cards on the SKYbrary webpages.