An exploratory survey study of disorder and its association with safety culture in four hospitals

Kate Churruca*, Louise A. Ellis, Janet C. Long, Chiara Pomare, Winston Liauw, Caroline M. O’Donnell, Jeffrey Braithwaite

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background: Signs of disorder in neighbourhoods (e.g., litter, graffiti) are thought to influence the behaviour of residents, potentially leading to violations of rules and petty criminal behaviour. Recently, these premises have been applied to the hospital context, with physical and social disorder found to have a negative association with patient safety. Building on these results, the present study investigates whether physical and social disorder differ between hospitals, and their relationship to safety culture. Methods: We conducted a cross sectional survey with Likert-style and open response questions administered in four Australian hospitals. All staff were invited to participate in the pilot study from May to September 2018. An analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to examine differences in disorder by hospital, and hierarchical linear regression assessed the relationship of physical and social disorder to key aspects of safety culture (safety climate, teamwork climate). Open responses were analysed using thematic analysis to elaborate on manifestations of hospital disorder. Results: There were 415 survey respondents. Significant differences were found in perceptions of physical disorder across the four hospitals. There were no significant differences between hospitals in levels of social disorder. Social disorder had a significant negative relationship with safety and teamwork climate, and physical disorder significantly predicted a poorer teamwork climate. We identified five themes relevant to physical disorder and four for social disorder from participants’ open responses; the preponderance of these themes across hospitals supported quantitative results. Conclusions: Findings indicate that physical and social disorder are important to consider in attempting to holistically understand a hospital’s safety culture. Interventions that target aspects of physical and social disorder in a hospital may hold value in improving safety culture and patient safety.

Original languageEnglish
Article number530
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2022. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Broken windows theory
  • Hospital
  • Patient safety
  • Physical disorder
  • Safety culture
  • Social disorder


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