Re: [xmca] A Culture of Safety at Work

From: Dale Cyphert <Dale.Cyphert who-is-at>
Date: Thu Jan 17 2008 - 12:37:04 PST

Would it be useful to distinguish between a workplace "personality" and
a more pervasive social "culture" within which that group operates? I
work with this two-layer notion quite a bit when I try to explain that
any organization has an idiosyncratic set of norms, behaviors, and
expectations of how people ought to think, act, and communicate. At the
same time, business organizations in general conform to a set of norms
that is different from engineering firms...and neither is ever played
out exactly within any one organization (or even within any one
work-group in an organization.) Businesses themselves, in fact, reflect
the social norms of the region in which they generally do business.

Which doesn't really answer Helena's question directly, but I think it's
easy to get hung up on what a "culture" is, when the real question is
probably closer to "what are the behavior patterns and priorities that
direct folks toward or away safe behaviors as they engage in day-to-day
activities?" If the analogy were with psychological constructs, that
sounds more like a personality than a result of culture.

Dale Cyphert, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Interim Head
Department of Management
University of Northern Iowa
1227 W.27th Street
Cedar Falls, IA 50614-0125
(319) 273-6150

Mike Cole wrote:
> Its always difficult to interpret non-responses on XMCA, but the note that
> Helena sent in the middle
> of the culture discussion growing out of discussion of Andy's paper appears
> not to have been given
> much attention. Its a practical issue for Helena and for the workers and
> company involved.
> I sent the note re "web culture" in hopes of moving discussion in the
> direction of consideration
> of Helena's message, but also to doubtful effect.
> So, let me take a stab at being useful and thereby providing people another
> invitation to lend a hand.
> In my intermittent thinking about the question, my thoughts have returned
> often to the idea of "cultural
> styles" because, as in that literature, there appears to be a claim that
> there is some shared pattern of
> meaning and associated practices that apply, more or less, to condition all
> of the interactions among
> people in a common social group living in more or less common circumstances.
> "Culture of the classroom"
> and DIFFERENT "cultures of the classroom" may be at this level of
> generality. Perhaps "culture of machismo"
> in some societies or parts of societies?
> I also thought about the pilot's in Ed Hutchin's aircraft who have safety
> check lists and routines for going
> through them, and routines for ensuring that the routines are gone through,
> and rules about how to go
> through those routines, and sanctions for not going through those routines.
> A preliminary guess about how to talk about such group-specific, but
> presumably within-group pervasive
> phenomena in the case of a factory or workplace. In such cases culture
> refers to a combination of values
> and their associated practices which members recognize, recognize that
> others recognize them, and can be
> referred to with the expectation that they will be understood by others, so
> they are tools for constructing joint activity,
> a "shared reality." Gary Alan Fine in more elaborated treatments called
> this sort of cutlural system an idioculture.
> (Fine's definition can be interpreted a la Geertz, as an interpretive,
> idealistic approach to culture. This is not my
> reading; I prefer, a s n the parts of Geertz I use, to use it as a way to
> keep both material and ideal aspects of
> culture in mind).
> Perhaps this way of looking at things could prove useful, Helene. I got to
> thinking that if ALL that constituted the
> "Culture of the workplace" you were studying was safety, people would enter
> the building, sit down in a chair, and
> not move a muscle all day to be sure they were safe. Absurd, of course.
> They are engaged in productive activity
> and earning their livings, so they must, like Hutchin's pilots, do things
> that are not guaranteed safe. So as part
> of many of the practices constituitive of the particular activity system,
> safety is a value that gets included, with
> others, in what people do.
> If this is approximately correct, the place to start may be with the
> explicit practices where safety is named and
> included. And then work to ferret out implicit practices where it is
> present, although perhaps not explicitly
> named. And , passim Yrjo, look for the contradictions that arise when
> this value and its associated practices
> and shadings of practices conflict with other, co-existing cultural
> features of the setting.
> A glance at google suggests that there is a n existing literature applied
> to workplaces where some such approach
> as I am gesturing toward may live.
> mike
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Received on Thu Jan 17 12:42 PST 2008

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