What is Proactive Safety Culture in Aviation SMS Programs
Proactive safety culture in aviation SMS programs simply denotes an operational environment whose employees and resources actively act upon likely safety concerns.
Employees exist at every level of an organization, but are generally broken into front line employees and management. Safety culture also includes risk management tools and equipment that aid in proactive behavior.
For front line employees, proactive safety culture means:
- Identifying hazard mechanisms; and
- Reporting them before the hazard (dangerous condition) occurs.
For safety management, proactive safety culture means:
- Identifying safety exposure; and
- Creating control measures to prevent the hazard from occurring.
Understanding how proactive the safety culture is in your organization will help you establish:
- How mature your safety management system is;
- Where you need to improve/maintain your safety program; and
- What kind of resistance you might expect in future implementation.
Here are 15 checklist items that are primary markers for proactive safety culture in aviation SMS programs.
1 – New SMS Manager Could Quickly Understand Program
This is probably not something you expected. But if a new safety manager can quickly become acquainted with your program in a week or two, it indicates that:
- People are willing to help the safety manger get up to speed before there are problems; and
- The SMS bureaucracy is well organized enough that it needs little work, meaning energy can be spent on preventing rather than correcting.
A good way to test this is to see how easy it is for a new manager to understand the purpose and functions of the SMS program.
2 – Upper Management Supports Program
The single biggest difference between safety programs that succeed, survive, or fail during safety manager turnover is how well upper management supports the SMS program. When upper management supports the program, it indicates:
- More risk management resources;
- Reliance on the system rather than the safety champion; and
- Effort has been made to prepare ahead of time for changes in personnel.
Most safety mangers will have a very clear picture of how supportive upper management is.
3 – End of Training Assessment Tests
End of training assessments indicate proactive safety culture because they entail testing the effectiveness of training before training deficiencies manifest themselves in safety issues.
End of training assessments are a powerful way to proactively assess training effectiveness and participation in training. If you are using them, then you are contributing to proactive safety culture.
4 – Use Safety Surveys
Safety surveys are probably the most straightforward method of proactively assessing safety culture. Poor safety culture results in:
- High turnover;
- Lack of hazard reporting; and
- Higher-severity safety issues.
Noticing trends during safety culture surveys is a superb way to proactively curb negative trends.
5 – Have Drills Scheduled
Using drills to test risk controls is essentially “stress testing” your aviation risk management program. Drills offer a venue and space to test safety performance without risk of actual danger. Such tests will expose deficiencies in risk controls.
Moreover, they are a training opportunity for employees to practice situation-specific behavior before they need to, such as if that situation actually occurred.
Having a history of drills, or having drills currently scheduled, indicates proactive safety culture for management and employees.
6 – Have Reviews Scheduled for Safety Policies and Procedures
Safety policies and procedures need to be reviewed to assess:
- If a policy/procedure has excessive issues associated with it;
- Whether or not each policy/procedure is up to date; and
- Whether or not each policy/procedure is adequate.
This activity is proactive so long as it’s not done in response to some kind of safety issue. If this process is scheduled ahead of time, such as on a yearly recurring basis, it indicates a proactive willingness to prevent mishaps.
7 – Managers Are Assigned to Control Measures
Managers and subject matter experts should be assigned to safety issues, but often programs overlook this benefit. Being in charge of a control means:
- Monitoring it;
- Understanding all relevant safety aspects and goals of the control measures; and
- Periodically reviewing the control measure.
The third point above, like scheduling reviews for safety policies and procedures, indicates proactive willingness to maintain the efficacy of risk controls before they fail.
8 – Using Aviation Leading Indicators
Aviation leading indicators are quite literally the most powerful proactive data tool in SMS programs. The goal of using leading indicators is to:
- Identify underlying mechanisms of safety performance;
- Understanding precursors to risk; and
- Understanding how root causes result in hazard occurrence.
Leading indicators demonstrates a total commitment by safety management to understand and prevent safety issues before they occur.
9 – Increase in Low-Risk Reported Issues Over Time
Surprisingly, after talking with many safety managers, the importance of having an increase in low-risk reported issues is not something many safety managers are privy to. Why is this so important?
- Means employees are often identifying potential safety concerns before hazard concern;
- Indicates positive hazard reporting culture; and
- Indicates that safety training and Human Factor Norms are positive.
All of these points can only exist in an environment with proactive safety culture.
10 – Have Checklists for High Percentage of Tasks
Checklists are an incredibly effective and straightforward proactive risk management tool. Using them in your SMS program demonstrates proactive safety culture because of:
- Management’s willingness to develop checklists to prevent hazard occurrence; and
- Employees willingness to use and follow checklists in order to prevent safety issues.
On all fronts, using checklists indicates a safety culture that is willing to be proactive.
For more resources about proactive safety culture, these following resources should prove useful: