Dimensions of safety culture: a systematic review of quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods for assessing safety culture in hospitals

Kate Churruca*, Louise A. Ellis, Chiara Pomare, Anne Hogden, Mia Bierbaum, Janet C. Long, Aleksandra Olekalns, Jeffrey Braithwaite

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)
66 Downloads (Pure)


Background The study of safety culture and its relationship to patient care have been challenged by variation in definition, dimensionality and methods of assessment. This systematic review aimed to map methods to assess safety culture in hospitals, analyse the prevalence of these methods in the published research literature and examine the dimensions of safety culture captured through these processes. Methods We included studies reporting on quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods to assess safety culture in hospitals. The review was conducted using four academic databases (PubMed, CINAHL, Scopus and Web of Science) with studies from January 2008 to May 2020. A formal quality appraisal was not conducted. Study purpose, type of method and safety culture dimensions were extracted from all studies, coded thematically, and summarised narratively and using descriptive statistics where appropriate. Results A total of 694 studies were included. A third (n=244, 35.2%) had a descriptive or exploratory purpose, 225 (32.4%) tested relationships among variables, 129 (18.6%) evaluated an intervention, while 13.8% (n=96) had a methodological focus. Most studies exclusively used surveys (n=663; 95.5%), with 88 different surveys identified. Only 31 studies (4.5%) used qualitative or mixed methods. Thematic analysis identified 11 themes related to safety culture dimensions across the methods, with € Leadership' being the most common. Qualitative and mixed methods approaches were more likely to identify additional dimensions of safety culture not covered by the 11 themes, including improvisation and contextual pressures. Discussion We assessed the extent to which safety culture dimensions mapped to specific quantitative and qualitative tools and methods of assessing safety culture. No single method or tool appeared to measure all 11 themes of safety culture. Risk of publication bias was high in this review. Future attempts to assess safety culture in hospitals should consider incorporating qualitative methods into survey studies to evaluate this multi-faceted construct.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere043982
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2021. 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.


  • health & safety
  • health services administration & management
  • organisation of health services


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