This paper is written from the point of view of a safety researcher with a background in the manufacturing, chemical and construction industries, and more recently in the airport and road safety areas. It looks at railway safety through those spectacles, based on some initial studies and discussions with railway safety experts.
An outsider has some advantages over insiders in what he can see of a culture or industry. Researchers into company and national culture, such as Schein (1992), and Hofstede (1986) define culture as an aspect of the way things operate in a company or country which is almost invisible to the people working or living there. It consists of the basic assumptions of how things are and should be done, assumptions which are unquestioned by the insiders, because they simply see them as the right way, and often the only way to do things. The outsider has the advantage that a number of these basic assumptions will so contradict the assumptions he brings with him from his own experience in other cultures, that they beg to be questioned. Anyone who has worked for any length of time in another country or has changed from one big employer to another will recognise that experience, and will also know that, after a year or two, most of these initial surprises no longer seem so strange or remarkable. That is a clear sign of absorption into the culture. This paper is written during that critical transition period and offers discussion of the "surprises" which have been encountered.