A Reporting Culture Is a Just Culture
Workers’ participation in aviation safety programs comes down to one word: reporting.
When workers are reporting, it demonstrates three things:
- That they trust the SMS program that is in place
- Cultivation of Just Culture in the workplace
- That the aviation safety officer is doing his job well
But as we are well aware, creating a hazard reporting culture has several powerful enemies, namely
- Frustrating reporting methods;
- Retaliatory/punitive work environments; and
- Apathy among others.
It is the primary responsibility of a safety manager to make sure that the workers – workers who are in the safety “trenches” every day – feel involved in their SMS program.
While one blog article isn’t enough to get into the nitty-gritty complexities of stimulating reporting cultures, there are several great ways to stimulate workplaces struggling with reporting. Or, if your SMS program is already fairly productive, you may find a few gems to fall back on.
Engage with Workers to Build Aviation Safety Reporting Culture
This is definitely one of those “well-duh” topics, but also one that, being so obvious, is often overlooked. Statistics is a great tool for analyzing the effectiveness of a safety performance measurement, but it doesn’t answer questions that only someone working directly with it can, like:
- Is this measure, while safe, also frustrating to the point of feeling ridiculous?
- Is there a more efficient way of implementing it?
- Are workers actually following this measure as they should?
These questions should be asked and followed up with regularity, especially as new programs or measures are implemented because let’s face it, workers are vulnerable.
Contact between aircraft and ground-service equipment account for more than 80% of ramp accidents. Gate stop injuries have 17% more injuries during arrival than departures.
Why these disparities? These are questions that cannot be answered with management sitting in an office.
Which brings me to my next point.
Meet Airline and Airport Personnel at Their Comfort Zone
That comfort zone could be anywhere:
- In your or their office
- On the ramp or in their workspace
- After work over coffee or a drink
Meet in whatever way most effectively helps them open up and be honest and transparent about their feelings.
Any barrier to a worker’s willingness to talk about his/her hands-on assessment of the success/failure of a program or safety measure is also a barrier to the functioning of your SMS program.
Creating a sense of comfort and building trust is essential to building a Just Culture.
Engaging by Active Listening
Another "well-duh." And yet I have seen it happen, spoken with safety managers who have seen it happen or have admitted to being guilty of it, and have had it personally happen to myself:
- A safety officer gets busy telling a worker about the effectiveness of the program/measure that the worker is dealing with every day
This is a great way to shut down communication lines with anybody. When I think about engaging by listening, I am loosely plagiarizing what psychologists refer to as "active listening." Active listening is simply listening, and then repeating back to to the speaker a summary of the main point they were making.
For example, an active listener might say, "It sounds like you are saying that..."
This strategy has historically proven greatly effective to make anybody - especially the worker you are talking to:
- Feel heard
- Feel engaged
- Trust and feel trusted
In other words, it is the Airbus A380 of opening direct communication lines between you and individuals who are dealing with a majority of the hazards every day.
Make Reporting Quick and Easy
I saved the best for last. It's kind of another "well-duh," but it is extremely important none the less.
When we are talking about quick and easy hazard reporting in aviation SMS programs, we are talking about three things:
- No pen and paper reporting
- Instant access to reporting
- Highly simplified, streamlined process
Who would rather fill out a form on paper, by hand, than use a computer-Web-based form with plenty of opportunities for auto-fill or copy and paste? That is a question and answer. Most people would MUCH rather report on an iPhone or IPad app than on paper because it's significantly faster and easier.
As a follow-up, having tools such as being able to report from a computer or, better yet, a cell phone provides a significant avenue for aviation hazard reporting. It's immediately accessible.
Finally, "highly simplified" simply entails having quick reporting options, pre-filled reporting forms, and forms that require only the most relevant information.
All three examples are geared towards making hazard reporting fast and simple.
The basic premise of creating healthy reporting cultures is to open lines of communication between yourself and the workers. Opening lines of communication:
- Builds trust
- Removes inhibitions
- Provides quick access
- Creates an "open door" type environment
Ultimately we are talking about engagement. A safety management system is not about passive policy and procedures - it might arise from policy and procedures, but it's not about that.
Rather, it's about the everyday actions and experience of workers on the ground level. Building trust and engaging workers will do wonders for improving a workplace reporting culture.