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5 Components of Safety Culture in Aviation SMS

Posted by Tyler Britton on Nov 29, 2017 6:03:00 AM

What Is Safety Culture in Aviation SMS

5 components of aviation safety cultureThere are many possible definitions of safety culture in aviation SMS programs. Generic definitions focus on:

  • Attitudes;
  • Behaviors; and
  • Values. 

While these points certainly are a core part of safety culture, they are also unhelpfully vague. What is more helpful is: what does safety culture look like in the operational environment

When looking at safety culture in this way, there are several things we must acknowledge:

  • There are different "types" or "components" of safety culture;
  • Safety culture can be measured by:
    • specific actions
    • specific occurrences
    • specific data
  • Safety culture results directly in safety performance.

Exploring these different aviation safety culture components and they ways safety culture can be measured is extremely helpful for understanding why your aviation SMS program functions the way it does. Here are the 5 components of aviation safety culture. 

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1 - Safety (Hazard) Reporting Culture

Safety reporting culture is how developed your hazard reporting process is, as well as how frequently employees use that process to report safety concerns. By "frequent" we are talking about the expected number of hazard reports. What mature hazard reporting culture's will see historically is a steady rise in the number of monthly hazard reports followed by a leveling off of hazard reports so that monthly numbers are consistent. 

Some ways to develop hazard reporting culture are:

  • Viable hazard reporting system in place;
  • Issue management focus on incident and not people;
  • Reported safety issues are managed in timely manner and have visible actions taken;
  • Multiple ways to report hazards (and are easy to use); and
  • High-reporters are formally recognized by the company.

A couple of notes on the above points. Having multiple ways to reports hazards, such as via email, cellphones, company website, etc., will undoubtedly improve hazard reporting numbers. Moreover, formally recognizing the highest reporter(s) can also provide a good incentive for other employees to report.

Mature hazard reporting culture provide superior data acquisition and safety data. 

2 - Safety Awareness

Safety awareness (lack of awareness) is one of the 12 Dirty Dozen Human Factors, and indeed it very well may have the highest implication in most safety incidents. In simple terms, safety awareness is the ability to recognize the wide ranging potential effects of one's actions on the operational environment. 

Having good vigilance can literally be the difference between an accident or not. Some good markers that an organization probably has good organizational safety awareness are:

  • Most/all employees have received hazard identification training;
  • Employees have access to company hazard occurrence data;
  • Stable workforce of experienced workers;
  • Significant safety trends and data are communicated directly to employees;
  • Checklists are regularly used for work tasks; and
  • Policies, procedures, checklists, etc., have multiple language support where applicable.

You will notice that the above list includes some quality management items, such as having a stable workforce. There is no doubt that when organizations provide a non-toxic environment for employees to work, safety will improve simply because employees will have a more positive attitude that is better suited for safety.

So as you attempt to raise safety awareness in your organization, consider how non-safety related elements of worker's jobs may indirectly improve safety.

3 - Safety Communication

Safety communication concerns how safety information flows between roles and members of your organization. Ideally, safety information will flow freely between:

  • Front line employees to front line employees;
  • Front line employees to management; and
  • Management to front line employees.

Safety information is simply any information that effects safety, including hazard reporting data, safety behavior data, safety attitude data, and so on. Some markers of good safety communication in an organization are:

  • Management encourages feedback;
  • Employee involvement in SMS changes matters;
  • Safety management uses safety surveys and other forms of employee-opinion data collection;
  • Organization holds regular safety meetings/briefings with employees and management; and
  • Policies, procedures, checklists, etc., have multiple language support where applicable.

4 - Safety Willingness

Safety willingness is an extremely important part of safety culture that tends to live in the shadow of communication and awareness. Willingness is simply how included employees (including management) is to:

  • Follow safety program documentation, such as procedures, checklists, etc.;
  • Accept changes to the SMS; and
  • Be involved in the SMS.

Markers of good safety willingness in a company are:

  • There is a clear accountability/reward system in place;
  • Safety performance reviews are included in performance reviews;
  • Management has distinct ways of promotion safety;
  • Employee job satisfaction is high; and
  • Management encourages safety over productivity (employees can stop work for safety reasons).

Safety willingness will greatly aid in the efficiency of aviation SMS implementation.

5 - Management-Employee Relationships

Management-employee relationships are extremely important. The ideal scenario here isn't necessarily that front line employees and management are best friends, but rather that:

  • Management does not have strong corporate/cronyism culture; and
  • Management does not contain "silos" that are counter to the safety program.

Signs of good management-employee relationship in your organization are:

  • Management has unique commitment to safety and non-punitive reporting;
  • Documentable evidence of Just Culture (no "blaming");
  • Employees trust management;
  • Clear safety leader(s), which does not necessarily have to be the aviation safety manager; and
  • Safety rules are realistic and fair.

Having good relationships between front line employees and management may marginally help safety culture in aviation SMS, but having bad relationships between front line employees and management will certainly greatly hurt safety culture.

Final Thought: Resources to Help Build Safety Culture

Several good resources to help build your safety culture are:

  • Having a safety culture manifesto that spells out specific kinds of safety behavior that your organization values;
  • Understanding what kind of safety manager you are; and
  • Grounding yourself and employees in basic safety concepts, such as risks, hazards, and Human Factors.

Get these free resources by clicking the links below:

Safety Management Style Quiz

Download Free Hazard and Risk Assessment

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Topics: Quality-Safety Management

Site content provided by Northwest Data Solutions is meant for informational purposes only. Opinions presented here are not provided by any civil aviation authority or standards body.

 

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