A multi-site pilot test study to measure safety climate in the university work setting

Janet M Gutierrez, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Next to leisure, sport, and household activities, the most common activity resulting in medically consulted injuries and poisonings in the United States is work, with an estimated 4 million workplace related episodes reported in 2008 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009). To address the risks inherent to various occupations, risk management programs are typically put in place that include worker training, engineering controls, and personal protective equipment. Recent studies have shown that such interventions alone are insufficient to adequately manage workplace risks, and that the climate in which the workers and safety program exist (known as the "safety climate") is an equally important consideration. The organizational safety climate is so important that many studies have focused on developing means of measuring it in various work settings. While safety climate studies have been reported for several industrial settings, published studies on assessing safety climate in the university work setting are largely absent. Universities are particularly unique workplaces because of the potential exposure to a diversity of agents representing both acute and chronic risks. Universities are also unique because readily detectable health and safety outcomes are relatively rare. The ability to measure safety climate in a work setting with rarely observed systemic outcome measures could serve as a powerful means of measure for the evaluation of safety risk management programs. The goal of this research study was the development of a survey tool to measure safety climate specifically in the university work setting. The use of a standardized tool also allows for comparisons among universities throughout the United States. A specific study objective was accomplished to quantitatively assess safety climate at five universities across the United States. At five universities, 971 participants completed an online questionnaire to measure the safety climate. The average safety climate score across the five universities was 3.92 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 indicating very high perceptions of safety at these universities. The two lowest overall dimensions of university safety climate were "acknowledgement of safety performance" and "department and supervisor's safety commitment". The results underscore how the perception of safety climate is significantly influenced at the local level. A second study objective regarding evaluating the reliability and validity of the safety climate questionnaire was accomplished. A third objective fulfilled was to provide executive summaries resulting from the questionnaire to the participating universities' health & safety professionals and collect feedback on usefulness, relevance and perceived accuracy. Overall, the professionals found the survey and results to be very useful, relevant and accurate. Finally, the safety climate questionnaire will be offered to other universities for benchmarking purposes at the annual meeting of a nationally recognized university health and safety organization. The ultimate goal of the project was accomplished and was the creation of a standardized tool that can be used for measuring safety climate in the university work setting and can facilitate meaningful comparisons amongst institutions.

Subject Area

Occupational health|Higher Education Administration|Management|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Gutierrez, Janet M, "A multi-site pilot test study to measure safety climate in the university work setting" (2011). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3468323.