Background Little is known about safety culture in the area of cardiac surgery as compared with other types of surgery. The unique features of cardiac surgical teams may result in different perceptions of patient safety and patient safety culture. Methods We measured and described safety culture in five cardiovascular surgical centers using the Hospital Survey on Patient Safety Culture, and compared the data with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) 2010 comparative database in surgery and anesthesiology (all types). We reported mean scores, standard deviations, and percent positive responses for the two single-item measures and 12 patient safety climate dimensions in the Hospital Survey on Patient Safety Culture. Results In the five cardiac surgical programs, the dimension of teamwork within hospital units had the highest positive score (74% positive responses), and the dimension of nonpunitive response to error had the lowest score (38% positive responses). Surgeons and support staff perceived better safety climate than nurses, perfusionists, and anesthesia practitioners. The cardiac surgery cohort reported more positive safety climate than the AHRQ all-type surgery cohort in four dimensions but lower frequency of reporting mistakes. The cardiac anesthesiology cohort scored lower on two dimensions compared with the AHRQ all-type anesthesiology cohort. Conclusions This study identifies patient safety areas for improvement in cardiac surgical teams in comparison with all-type surgical teams. We also found that different professional disciplines in cardiac surgical teams perceive patient safety differently.