Using the Safety Culture Discussion Cards: Tips for SWOT analysis from a user

David Thompson, a Human Factors Specialist from NATS, UK, has provided some feedback on the use of the Safety Culture Discussion Cards for a SWOT analysis. David organised a session involving six groups, each with a facilitator, and each tackling one element of safety culture. The facilitators distributed cards around the table and the groups discussed each of the topics on the cards (in terms of Safety within NATS) to identify the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Facilitators then recorded the highlights on a flip chart. At the end of the 30 minute session – each facilitator was asked to give the away day audience a brief summary of their topic.


David summarises as follows:

We used the Eurocontrol Safety Culture cards to facilitate a SWOT group discussion within the Directorate of Safety, NATS. The cards proved a very useful basis upon which to stimulate discussion into the varied themes covered. The cards themselves can be employed in a number of simple ways, with helpful examples provided. The whole purpose of which is to get people talking about safety! I see no reason why these cards cannot be used to explore different safety themes within any safety critical organisation. Whilst the cards provide a great platform to discuss safety, for the cards to have residual value, it is important to consider how any safety concerns raised could be managed beyond the horizon of the immediate discussion.

The exercise was organised so that each group had the cards for one element of safety culture:


One useful insight related to the fact that there are different numbers of cards in each element. For instance, the element ‘Just culture, Reporting and Learning‘ has many more cards that ‘Responsibility‘. One facilitator commented:

The various categories work well, although some topics are in my view more interesting to discuss than others. There are more cards in some areas than others, I don’t think this is a problem; it’s just how the material falls across the categories. But one must be mindful of this, as certain categories may result in longer discussions than others.

A facilitator suggested that it may be better sometimes to give each group a more random set of cards, and perform a SWOT analysis with these, so that the outputs could be compared between groups:

Because we were doing a SWOT analysis into the different category areas, each table’s outputs were different. In all honesty, perhaps the best strategy would have been to randomly assign the cards across the different groups, which would have provided a more homogenised output. When we went round the room one table at a time, this would have allowed a peer comparison as to if we touched on the same topics. Although having said that, there were several common themes identified particularly in the area of ‘Threats’.

The SWOT approach allows a balance between positive and negative safety issues and so helps avoid falling into the trap of seeing safety culture only in a negative light.

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About stevenshorrock

I am a systems ergonomist/human factors specialist and work psychologist with a background in practice and research in safety-critical industries. My main interest is human and system behaviour in the context of safety-related organisations. I seek to enable improvement via a combination of systems thinking, design thinking and humanistic thinking. I am a Chartered Ergonomist and Human Factors Specialist with the CIEHF and a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society. I currently work as a human factors and safety specialist in air traffic control in Europe. I am also an Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the University of New South Wales, School of Aviation. I blog in a personal capacity. Views expressed here are mine and not those of any affiliated organisation, unless stated otherwise. You can find me on twitter at @stevenshorrock
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