European Railway Agency - ERA

Making the railway system work better for society.

Safety Culture

Safety is the essential precondition for successful rail business in Europe.

In many high-risk domains tackling organisational and cultural aspects has become paramount to enhancing safety. The success of safety culture in those industries has convinced leaders of the European rail sector, as well as European law-makers, to embrace this philosophy across the continent.

Safety culture refers to the interaction between the requirements of the Safety Management System (SMS), how people make sense of them, based on their attitudes, values and beliefs, and what they actually do, as seen in decisions and behaviours.


In order to support design and implementation of strategies to continually improve safety culture, the Agency has developed the European railway safety culture model. It is a conceptual and evaluation framework, which allows the user to assess safety culture and identify areas for improvement.

The model is available as a high resolution editable file (e.g. for translation into your language) upon request here. (select as topic ‘Railway Safety’)

The model is made up with three building blocks: cultural enablers, behaviour patterns and railway safety fundamentals.

  • Cultural enablers: those levers through which an organisational culture develops;
  • Behaviour patterns: those shared ways of thinking and acting which convey the organisational culture;
  • Railway safety fundamentals: those core principles which must be reflected by behaviour patterns to achieve sustainable safety performance and organisational excellence.

European railway safety culture model (component level)* (Version 2)


* The European railway safety culture model has been elaborated with the support of an ad-hoc task force created under the aegis of the Agency’s Human and Organisational Factors Network. It has also benefited from the expertise of the Institute for an industrial safety culture. Graphic design: Baptiste Prat.

A positive railway safety culture is characterised by a collective commitment by leaders and individuals to satisfy the four railway safety fundamentals.

The four cultural enablers and the four railway safety fundamentals are each broken down into three attributes. The twenty-four attributes of a positive railway safety culture are intended to form an appropriate tool for the railway organisations to identify their cultural strengths and weaknesses. A strategy to improve their safety culture may apply to one or several cultural enablers to promote those behaviour patterns that support the railway safety fundamentals and hence the goal of sustainable safety performance.

The European railway safety culture model has been presented at the International Railway Safety Council, 21-26 October 2018 in Dublin, Ireland, and at the European Rail Human and Organisational Factors Seminar, 14-15 November 2018 in Valenciennes.

In 2019, the model has been used and tested by railway organisations to carry out safety culture assessments and consequently design strategy to improve their safety culture, and also by several national safety authorities to determine how to integrate safety culture in their supervision programmes. Lessons learned led to update the model – The second version of the model has been presented at the 12th World congress on railway research in Tokyo, October 2019. 

In line with the European railway safety culture model, the Agency, with the support of the European Commissioner for Transport, has developed the European railway safety culture declaration. The declaration lays down the four railway safety fundamentals: Control Major Risks, Understand Workplace Reality, Learn from Experience, Integrate Safety Consistently.

Railways are the safest form of land transport in Europe today. Nevertheless, despite the good record, serious train accidents still happen, level crossing accidents remain a major concern and we are not making progress on reducing the numbers of employees’ fatalities. The solutions are not only technical, but human, organizational, and cultural. Safety management can only be effective when all staff share and live a common commitment to safety. This is where leadership and effective safety management play a paramount role to guide any cultural change.

Sign the European Railway Safety Culture Declaration


Safety Culture Series guidance

To provide support to the sector to effectively implement the complex concept of safety culture, the EU Agency for Railways has decided to publish a set of concise guidelines under a new sequence called “safety culture series”.

The aim of the first guide is to explain the European railway safety culture model as a tool to understand how safety culture develops and can be influenced. The target audience is wide, covering regulators, senior managers, rail safety managers, supervisors, researchers and all other individuals interested in the concept of safety culture.

Leadership plays a major role in the development of a positive safety culture. This key contribution is underlined in the European railway safety culture declaration and safety leadership has been identified as an enabler, part of the European railway safety culture model.

“safety requires time and resources, but above all a commitment – from the top to the bottom. Let’s not leave anyone behind! As leaders, your behaviour counts more than anyone else’s. You have a major influence on culture and this is why we expect you to be safety leaders.” (EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc, April 2018)

The Agency has developed a 1-day training on safety leadership targeting rail managers at all levels (see training objectives and agenda). The training is based on a film which explores the circumstances leading to a real accident that took place within a railway undertaking. See the trailer below

The training has been successfully tested with several railway organisations and is now further deployed. For more information contact us via email.