Occupational Safety

Using the Bradley Curve to improve occupational safety

How to measure the maturity of your company’s culture and achieve lasting reductions in accident rates

10 minutes06/08/2022

by Stefan Bartel 

Few managers are aware  that occupational safety is directly linked to the maturity of a company’s culture . The Bradley Curve was developed to illustrate this connection. It demonstrates that motivated employees who identify with their company are more responsible and value occupational health and safety, thus experiencing fewer accidents. The fundamental theory behind the Bradley Curve is that most workplace accidents are caused, or at least not prevented, by human behavior. In turn, the following factors have a significant influence on employee behavior: 

  • A person’s internal attitude: Your employees acquire these attitudes during socialization and bring them into their work.  
  • Leadership : How a workforce behaves is strongly influenced by the instructions of managerial staff, along with the examples they set and the actions they permit. Leadership is therefore directly reflected in the accident rate.  
  • Corporate culture: In this case the behaviors considered correct, appropriate, and desirable by a majority of the workforce. The way employees behave always reflects in a  company’s culture. 

If you want to influence the accident rate and encourage employees to behave safely, you should look at two factors: leadership and corporate culture. These factors indirectly influence employees’ internal attitudes. 

In this article, we will explain how you can use the Bradley Curve to identify which stage your company’s culture is at, as well as the steps you can take toimprove company safetymake it fit for the future, motivate your employees, and reduce your accident rate. 

What is the Bradley Curve?

The Bradley Curve illustrates the relationship between accidents and corporate culture. Ultimately, it provides a way to evaluate your safety culture and highlights potential ways to improve on the status quo. The Bradley Curve was developed in 1995 by a DuPont employee, Berlin Bradley. He collated his theoretical insights into a matrix ,later substantiating them with scientific evidence. 

The Bradley Curve depicts four stages of safety culture. A company’s culture can be attributed to any one of these stages and then developed to reach others. Companies with frequent accidents are in the first stage. At the other end of the spectrum, in the fourth stage, are companies where accidents are rare or do not occur at all. Two interim stages lie between the first and the fourth stage. Each stage is characterized by a behavioral basis in relation to occupational safety. This is based on a key question: What is the foundation to prevent accidents - natural instincts, rules and supervision, responsibility, or shared responsibility? 

Stage 1: Reactive occupational safety based on instinct  

Employees do not take responsibility for occupational safety. As a result, safety is mainly a matter of chance and accidents are seen as an inevitable part of day-to-day work.  

Stage 2: Dependent occupational safety based on rules and supervision  

Employees regard occupational safety as rules set by the management. Meanwhile, management assumes that the accident rate will fall if employees simply follow the rules. This leadership style involves exerting pressure on employees.  

Stage 3: Independent occupational safety based on employees’ self-responsibility  

Employees regard occupational safety personally. They take responsibility for themselves and understand the underlying significance of occupational safety measures.  

Stage 4: Shared responsibility achieved by perceiving occupational health and safety as a common value 

Occupational safety is an integral part of a  company’s DNA. Employees are responsible for themselves and others. They do not accept low standards or risks. They investigate unsafe behavior and understand that the only way to achieve improvements and a zero-accident record is by working as a team. 

Simply put, the Bradley Curve shows the potential development of a company’s safety culture. This starts from an initially reactive approach and moves towards the ultimate goal: a situation in which management is no longer solely responsible for occupational safety, with employees initially being responsible for themselves, and then taking responsibility for themselves and others in the final stage.

Determining the maturity of a safety culture

To better understand the concept, and to help assess where your company currently sits, consider this expanded version of the Bradley Curve: 

In addition to the behavioral basis defined for each phase in DuPont’s Bradley Curve, each stage in the Bradley Curve also reflects the prevailing attitude to accidents in the company. If you want to classify your company into one of these stages, consider how executives, managers and employees in your company regard the accident rate. Are accidents considered part of day-to-day work, with no attempts to minimize the accident rate – in keeping with the motto “accidents are normal” or “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs”? If so, your company is at the first stage. To reach the next stage, you need to make managers aware of their responsibilities in relation to occupational safety. 

Each stage is also characterized by employees’ motivation to engage with occupational safety and avoid accidents in the workplace, as well as the motto of the prevailing leadership style. 

In terms of the specific behavioral basis for each stage, which is considered decisive for avoiding accidents and improving occupational safety, there are certain types of occupational safety activities and measures that serves to lay these foundations. This in turn gives rise to a sort of responsibility, which is recognized and taken on by different people and groups, always dependent on the maturity of the culture. 

Examine the matrix systematically to clearly define what stage your company is at. Give particular attention to the popular opinion and ask yourself what your employees think about the topic of occupational safety, and how they embody this. Finally, position your company on the scale from 1 to 12. 

Employee survey on safety culture

Don’t assess by yourself.Present the Bradley Curve to your colleagues, employees and management-level staff to gain a realistic idea of your company’s position. However, if this is not possible, you should at least ask yourself two questions: 

  • Where do you think your employees would position themselves and their direct superiors? 
  • Where do you think management-level staff would position themselves and their employees? 

The diagram above shows an example of the results of an employee survey. It clearly shows that many employees in this hypothetical company position its safety culture – as practiced by the workforce (X axis) and management (Y axis) – in the lower developmental stages of the Bradley Curve.

Good to know

It’s important for managers to understand that the responses in the red fields on the right of the diagram should be regarded as particularly strong criticism. These responses indicate that employees’ approach to occupational safety is more mature than that of management. This makes it very difficult for management to provide the leadership to improve occupational safety. It is essential that managers start by identifying what they can do to impact their team. When used in this way, the Bradley Curve is an excellent cognitive tool and can help t improve companies – especially at management level. 

Reaching the next stage on the Bradley Curve

Once you have identified the status quo of your company’s safety culture, it is  relatively straightforward to implement steps towards improvement. Look at the characteristics for the next stage and consider what tools and measures could help you get there. A willingness to change always requires a certain degree of initiative, which must come from all levels. 

The following questions can drive forward your company’s development:  

  • Where are we on the Bradley Curve at present and what approaches and actions can we derive from that?  
  • How can we encourage people to see themselves as part of a team – and what regulations and standards can help to create a safe corporate culture?  
  • What can management do to support this cultural change?  
  • How can leadership become more prominent and stand for change in our company?  
  • Where are our employees on the curve?  
  • How do employees assess management?  

The decisive step towards creating a better safety culture is moving from the second stage to the third. In the second stage, employees do things because they must; they are forced to comply. In such instances, pressure is the main tool leaders use. However, in the third category, employees act safely because they want to – and empowerment, identification and integration are the key characteristics of this leadership. Structuring and developing a system of safety officers will only pay off in companies in the third stage or higher. The same goes for establishing a process to improve attendance. In situations where pressure is exerted as a leadership tool, meetings and discussions with managers following a period of absence will usually be perceived as criticism.  


How a safety culture can yield business success

In addition to the influence of safety culture on accident rates, DuPont was also able to show, thatas a company’s safety culture matures, the quality of its work improves too, along with overall productivity and profits. 

This variant of the Bradley Curve demonstrates that the more developed your safety culture is,  

  • the more future-ready and adaptable your company will be. 
  • the more closely your company will focus on quality.  

As the Bradley Curve shows, a company is only capable of change –  therefore, ready to face the future – from the third stage onwards.,A raise in quality and productivity go hand in hand with improved employee performance. 


Improvements in occupational safety yield benefits across the board! If you can refine your company’s culture, then improved occupational safety, quality, productivity and employee motivation will all go hand in hand.  

For occupational safety to become a practiced part of a company’s culture, every manager needs to regard this matter close to their heart. This is necessary to establish basic credibility, which then forms the basis for practical measures and methods. Companies that only talk about methods without focusing on managers’ inner attitudes, are doomed to fail. It is also important to tailor methods to the company’s existing culture and employees. Don’t try to skip stages – instead, aim for step-by-step progress along the Bradley Curve and towards success. In some cases, it can take companies 8 to 10 years to progress from the first stage to the fourth. 

Stefan Bartel
Stefan Bartel

Bartel is a renowned leadership communication expert and a Safety Culture Coach®. Not only does he offer professional management training in companies, he also offers coaching at the Stefan Bartel Academy to help professionals become Safety Culture Managers®. 

After 35 years’ professional experience, the mechanical engineering graduate and former design engineer at Daimler-Benz is now passing on his expertise – as a lecturer, a coach, a speaker and an author.