Safety Culture Cards Application: Exploring Experiences Using Schein’s Cycle

The safety culture discussion cards are now in use in a number of countries within different types of organisations, so I thought it might be a good idea to do some more posts on potential applications of the cards. The whole idea of the cards is that they are a tool that can be used however the users wish, bounded only by imagination. Some starter applications are described very briefly in the card set, which I will expand on in future. This post describes another application, not listed in the card set.


Schein (1999) proposed a framework for reflection called the ORJI model – Observation, Reaction, Judgement, Intervention. This simple model can serve as a framework for understanding experiences regarding safety.


The aim of the exercise is to reflect on interactions between people, especially where there may be disagreement, tension, or actions with unexpected and unintended consequences, and to reveal alternative ways of looking at the event.


This exercise can be done with small groups, triads, pairs or alone. A facilitator could be assigned.


Safety culture discussion cards can be used, but are not essential. Other than that, pen and paper may be useful so that individuals can record any insights and implications from their own experience.


It is a good idea to set some boundaries for the exercise, perhaps including:

  • Do people wish to tell and reflect on their story without interruption?
  • Do people wish to invite comment or questions?
  • Is it agreed to avoid negating or invalidating someone else’s experience?
  • Will anonymity of those involved be preserved, and if so how?
  • Is there a time limit for each person?
  • Is it OK for others to challenge interpretations or offer alternatives?


Consider which element or aspect of safety culture you wish to discuss or reflect on. If the exercise is done in a group, each person may wish to do this, or some may share their experiences while others listen. The elements of the Safety Culture Discussion Cards might help with this, i.e.

  • Management commitment
  • Resourcing
  • Just culture, reporting and learning
  • Risk awareness and management
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Involvement
  • Responsibility

Once an element of safety culture has been selected, take one card that brings to mind an experience that had a lasting impact. For the purpose of illustration, we will take a card concerning a manager’s reaction to a concern expressed by a staff member, card 1e.

Consider the question raised on the card and the general issue. Note that the text is meant to be general to give more of an idea about this issue; it is not definitive. Ignore for now the final question on the card – this is meant to be more forward looking and may come in handy later.

Next, reflect on the experience in mind, which ideally should be a specific event bound in time. Let’s say there was a concern from an employee about some a procedure which could not be used as described (note the same kind of issue could be generated from more than one card. This experience also relates to this one, for example.) Considering this situation, the person describes the general setting, what triggered the event, and when it happened, and the following using the ORJI prompts:

  1. Observation – What did I actually observe (described neutrally, as if the event was recorded on film)? Example: “After I described the problem with the procedure, the manager said thanks for letting me know. She didn’t ask anything about it or say what she would do.”
  2. Reaction – How did I react emotionally to what I observed? What feelings did I experience? Example: “I felt angry that she was not interested and didn’t understand how serious it was, that we had to work around this procedure every day but if things went wrong, we would have been in trouble.”
  3. Judgement – What did I think about all of this? How did I evaluate what happened at the time? Example: “I thought she didn’t like me. She didn’t trust me so she wasn’t taking it seriously.”
  4. Interventions – What did I do or not do? How did I intervene or not intervene to make something happen? Example: “I carried on working around the procedure to get the job done. I wasn’t going to report it again! Then there was an incident and I was asked why I was using this workaround, even though that was nothing to do with the incident really. But I’d already explained that the actual procedure didn’t work!”

At the time of the event, according to Schein, we often do not pay enough attention to the reaction stage, yet this will affect our judgement and interventions. Judgements and interventions are also affected by problems concerning observation, such as selective attention and the influence of past experience, particularly expectations and prejudgement.

Following the initial telling of the experience, the person can then go back through the cycle once again looking for alternative observations, reactions, judgement and interventions, relating to the experience itself and any implications for future similar experiences, for instance:

  1. Observation – Did I miss anything? Was I being selective in my observations? What else might have been going on that could have been observed? Example: “Actually she did seem really stressed, like she had to be somewhere or do something.”
  2. Reaction – How did my initial reaction affect my judgement? Was I aware of my initial reaction at the time? How could I have reacted differently internally, and how might this have produced a different judgement and intervention? Example: “I was already angry because of an argument with a colleague about it.”
  3. Judgement – Was my judgement warranted given what I observed? Did I make any assumptions? What alternative judgements could I make? Example: “I assumed she didn’t like me because she hasn’t spoken to me much since she became manager. But I suppose she is a lot busier now and has a new job to learn.”
  4. Intervention – Was my intervention based on sound judgement? How could I have reacted differently? Example: “I could have asked if now was a good time to discuss it, or asked when we could have a chat. Actually I will do that. She probably has no idea.”

The person may then invite (supportive) questions or comments from others.

The learning experience can help to reframe past experiences, open the mind to new ways of interpreting interactions, and take action based on the insights gained.

Note: This post refers to Edition 1 of the cards. Edition 2 is now available.

Author: stevenshorrock

This blog is written by Dr Steven Shorrock. I am interdisciplinary humanistic, systems and design practitioner interested in human work from multiple perspectives. My main interest is human and system behaviour, mostly in the context of safety-related organisations. 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 Adjunct Associate Professor at University of the Sunshine Coast, Centre for Human Factors & Sociotechnical Systems. 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 or email contact[at]humanisticsystems[dot]com.

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