Safety Culture at General Motors Post the Ignition Switch Recall Crisis

Safety Culture at General Motors Post the Ignition Switch Recall Crisis
Case Code: HROB221
Case Length: 11 Pages
Period: 2004-2019
Pub Date: 2020
Teaching Note: Available
Price: Rs.300
Organization : General Motors
Industry :Automotive
Countries : United States
Themes: Organizational Culture/ Job Design/ Training & Development/Systems Thinking
Safety Culture at General Motors Post the Ignition Switch Recall Crisis
Abstract Case Intro 1 Case Intro 2 Excerpts


The case ‘Safety Culture at General Motors Post the Ignition Switch Recall Crisis’ describes how faulty ignition switches in some car models of General Motors (GM) led to one of the biggest recalls in the history of the US automobile industry. The recall happened almost 10 years after customers first complained about safety issues related to the ignition switch that automatically turned the car's engine off while the vehicle was in motion and caused non-deployment of airbags during crashes. The defect was linked to 124 deaths and 275 injuries and GM paid about $2.6 billion in penalties and settlements, including the fine. The case looks into the various reasons identified for this fiasco when Mary Barra, soon after becoming the CEO of GM in 2014, appointed a law firm Jenner & Block LLP and former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas to conduct a thorough investigation into the circumstances that led up to the recall. One of the primary observations of the Valukas Report was the absence of a culture of safety at GM. The report also cited issues related to working in silos that impacted cross-functional communication and technical operations.

GM undertook a number of measures to bring about a change in its safety culture. Some of these had been initiated even before the report came out while some were introduced on the basis of its recommendations. GM created a Senior Position on Vehicle Safety, initiated a ‘Speak Up’ Program to identify safety issues in real time operations, moved from a Silos to Systems Approach, and focussed on new-employee orientation and annual training on improving safety. The case finally looks at how GM’s intensified focus on its workplace safety through various safety measures helped it to reduce recordable injury rates by 33 percent, and total incident rates by 30 percent in 2019 from 2016. However, the company was determined that it would pursue further safety initiatives until that figure was 100 percent injury free. In the words of Barra, “We reinforce safety on a monthly basis, but once a year we dedicate a week to product safety and workplace safety and making sure people know why it’s so important. That kind of commitment over many years ... needs to continue.”


The case is structured to achieve the following teaching objectives:

  • Understand the internal and external factors that create and impact safety culture in an organization
  • Learn about the importance of an organization to own responsibility when things go wrong
  • Understand the need for HR to undertake continuous job analysis and take a relook at reporting structures on a regular basis
  • Gain clarity on the impact of safety issues on the organization’s image and on employee and customer confidence
  • Be aware of training and safety practices at the workplace



Organizational Culture, Job Design, Safety Training, Job Analysis, Safety Culture, Systems Approach, Workplace Safety, Learning Organization

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