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01.12.2018 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

BMC Health Services Research 1/2018

Assessing safety climate in acute hospital settings: a systematic review of the adequacy of the psychometric properties of survey measurement tools

BMC Health Services Research > Ausgabe 1/2018
Gheed Alsalem, Paul Bowie, Jillian Morrison
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1186/​s12913-018-3167-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



The perceived importance of safety culture in improving patient safety and its impact on patient outcomes has led to a growing interest in the assessment of safety climate in healthcare organizations; however, the rigour with which safety climate tools were developed and psychometrically tested was shown to be variable. This paper aims to identify and review questionnaire studies designed to measure safety climate in acute hospital settings, in order to assess the adequacy of reported psychometric properties of identified tools.


A systematic review of published empirical literature was undertaken to examine sample characteristics and instrument details including safety climate dimensions, origin and theoretical basis, and extent of psychometric evaluation (content validity, criterion validity, construct validity and internal reliability).


Five questionnaire tools, designed for general evaluation of safety climate in acute hospital settings, were included. Detailed inspection revealed ambiguity around concepts of safety culture and climate, safety climate dimensions and the methodological rigour associated with the design of these measures. Standard reporting of the psychometric properties of developed questionnaires was variable, although evidence of an improving trend in the quality of the reported psychometric properties of studies was noted. Evidence of the theoretical underpinnings of climate tools was limited, while a lack of clarity in the relationship between safety culture and patient outcome measures still exists.


Evidence of the adequacy of the psychometric development of safety climate questionnaire tools is still limited. Research is necessary to resolve the controversies in the definitions and dimensions of safety culture and climate in healthcare and identify related inconsistencies. More importance should be given to the appropriate validation of safety climate questionnaires before extending their usage in healthcare contexts different from those in which they were originally developed. Mixed methods research to understand why psychometric assessment and measurement reporting practices can be inadequate and lacking in a theoretical basis is also necessary.
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