BACKGROUND: How to protect patients from harm is a question of universal interest. Measuring and improving safety culture in care giving units is an important strategy for promoting a safe environment for patients. The Safety Attitudes Questionnaire (SAQ) is the only instrument that measures safety culture in a way which correlates with patient outcome. We have translated the SAQ to Norwegian and validated the translated version. The psychometric properties of the translated questionnaire are presented in this article. METHODS: The questionnaire was translated with the back translation technique and tested in 47 clinical units in a Norwegian university hospital. SAQ's (the Generic version (Short Form 2006) the version with the two sets of questions on perceptions of management: on unit management and on hospital management) were distributed to 1911 frontline staff. 762 were distributed during unit meetings and 1149 through the postal system. Cronbach alphas, item-to-own correlations, and test-retest correlations were calculated, and response distribution analysis and confirmatory factor analysis were performed, as well as early validity tests. RESULTS: 1306 staff members completed and returned the questionnaire: a response rate of 68%. Questionnaire acceptability was good. The reliability measures were acceptable. The factor structure of the responses was tested by confirmatory factor analysis. 36 items were ascribed to seven underlying factors: Teamwork Climate, Safety Climate, Stress Recognition, Perceptions of Hospital Management, Perceptions of Unit Management, Working conditions, and Job satisfaction. Goodness-of-Fit Indices showed reasonable, but not indisputable, model fit. External validity indicators - recognizability of results, correlations with "trigger tool"-identified adverse events, with patient satisfaction with hospitalization, patient reports of possible maltreatment, and patient evaluation of organization of hospital work - provided preliminary validation. CONCLUSION: Based on the data from Akershus University Hospital, we conclude that the Norwegian translation of the SAQ showed satisfactory internal psychometric properties. With data from one hospital only, we cannot draw strong conclusions on its external validity. Further validation studies linking the SAQ-scores to patient outcome data should be performed.