Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Learning, Leadership and Change

First Advisor

Rod P. Githens

First Committee Member

Rachelle Kisst Hackett

Second Committee Member

Christine Kennedy


To safeguard the health and well-being of faculty, students, staff, and the community is of moral imperative for higher education institutions. Likewise, protecting the environment is a socially sound practice. Furthermore, building and maintaining a positive safety culture is believed to contribute to productive environmental health and safety (EH&S) outcomes. Higher education EH&S leaders are at the center of universities’ efforts in maintaining a positive safety culture. The purpose of this inquiry was to study higher education EH&S leaders’ perspectives on safety culture and contribute to closing the academic literature gap in the higher education setting. Interviews and a survey were the data collection techniques. EH&S leaders of U.S. higher education institutions participated in the study. I used Cooper’s (2000, 2016) reciprocal safety culture model as a theoretical framework and a mixed methods research design to find answers to the research questions. The survey results revealed how EH&S leaders viewed different aspects of their operations, and findings from the interviews revealed the leaders’ lived experiences. For example, the quantitative study showed 100% of the participants strongly agree or agree that shaping the safety culture of their campus is part of their role. In addition, the qualitative data identified distinct strategies employed by leaders to shape the safety culture of their campuses.

Four major themes were identified in the qualitative data. In the first theme, The Higher Education Safety Culture, the EH&S leaders reflected on their lived experiences and the importance of positive safety culture in accomplishing their goals. They mobilize their campus communities in a collective effort to achieve a healthy and safe working environment, minimize the impact on the environment, and remain compliant with regulatory requirements. The second theme, Higher Education Environmental Health and Safety Programs, stressed the plans and procedures the leaders and their departments engage in their daily operations. The third theme, Higher Education Management’s Role in Environmental Health and Safety Operations, manifested the leaders’ equivocal voice on the necessity of the higher education leadership and upper management support to fulfill their missions. The last theme, Modus Operandi of Higher Education Environmental Health and Safety Leaders, is about a range of strategies and tactics the EH&S leaders employed to succeed in a structured, bureaucratic, and challenging environment.

The findings have direct implications for both higher education EH&S professionals and higher education senior leadership. The study findings implied EH&S leaders should focus their effort where it generates the best outcome, namely: (a) orchestrate the campus community toward a positive safety; (b) build and implement effective EH&S programs; (c) bring upper management and leadership aboard; (d) apply effective communication; (e) build trust; (f) define their role as a consultant; (g) stand out; and (h) create a brand, motto, and slogan where possible.

For higher education senior leadership, participants emphasized the necessity of upper management and leadership support to build and maintain a positive safety culture on the campus, agreeing with Cooper (2000, 2016). This work helps contribute to making higher education senior leadership and upper management understand their role in their campuses’ safety culture and provide due support and actively participate.

This study served as an initial exploration in understanding higher education EH&S leaders’ perspectives on safety culture and contributing to closing the literature gap. It also opened a door for future research. Broadening the audience to students, faculty, and staff are reasonable candidates for further research for a more comprehensive understanding of the safety culture in higher education. In addition, expanding the survey to include more EH&S leaders of higher education will elaborate on the EH&S operations, challenges, and sentiment.





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