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The notion of having a just culture seems like a fool-proof idea. In simple terms, it’s an organisational culture where individuals aren’t blamed for honest mistakes, only for acts of sheer negligence or wilful misconduct.1 That means that as long as you intend to do the right thing, if a mistake arises, you won’t be punished for it. On the surface, it appears to be an effective system with punitive measures only being enforced when they’re truly deserved.

However, a look beyond the surface reveals flaws within the system. When you take a step back and think about who gets to make that judgement call about whether or not something was due to an honest mistake, a major issue with the system becomes clear. While at its core, the principles behind a just culture are meant to support a fair and non-biased system, the reality is that a just culture relies heavily on the perspective and opinions of your organisation’s leaders—which comes at an unexpected cost.

In this white paper, we explore the concept of a just culture and the key factors that can undermine its effectiveness. We also discuss the pivotal role that trust and error management play in a successful just culture and the impact of these on driving positive safety outcomes.

Overview

Part 1: Is a Just Culture as Fair as it Appears to Be?

  • Incident Management Breaches
  • Human Error vs. At-Risk Behaviour vs. Reckless Behaviour
  • Five Questions for Fairly Categorising Breaches

Part 2: Workplace Trust

  • The Relationship Between Trust and Safety
  • The Unexpected Relationship Between Trust and Focus
  • The Factors that Impact the Formation of Trust
  • The Impact of Gender and Demographics

Part 3: Error Management

  • Effective Error Management
  • Error Management Climate
  • Impact on Safety Performance
  • Error Management Training

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First published 2019.

  1. Frankel, A. S., Leonard, M. W., & Denham, C. R. (2006). Fair and just culture, team behaviour, and leadership engagement: The tools to achieve high reliability. Health Research and Educational Trust, 41, 1690-1709. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-6773.2006.00572.x

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