Why Monitor Aviation Safety Culture Performance
Aviation safety culture results in safety performance. Other than the bureaucratic elements of SMS, you could even make an argument that safety culture is safety performance.
But aviation safety culture is notoriously difficult to monitor and influence. The consequence of this difficulty is that it is also challenging to monitor safety culture performance.
In order to monitor safety culture performance in aviation SMS programs, you need to understand what safety culture is. There are countless different definitions. However, it is less effective to try and define safety culture than it does to establish:
- What are the different types of safety culture?
- What are characteristics of effective safety culture?
- What are signs of mature safety culture?
What the above articles all point out is that safety culture will express itself differently in each company. Monitoring safety performance isn’t just about understanding what safety culture looks like, but what it looks like in your company. Then you can:
- Use safety metrics to track safety behavior;
- Prepare proper safety culture promotional materials;
- Arrange the proper safety training to help monitor improvements to safety culture; and
- Restructure the SMS to maximize safety culture.
Monitoring aviation safety culture is an essential part of continuous improvement and overcoming plateaus.
Using Safety Data to Monitor Aviation Safety Culture
Without question, aviation leading indicators are the most effective way to monitor safety culture. Leading indicators are designed to assess underlying causes and “inputs” of the SMS program. Many of these inputs-metrics are:
- Behavior specific;
- Account for behavior when the boss isn’t around; and
- Correlate direction to safety-specific actions, such as hazard reporting and timeliness.
Examples of leading indicator metrics that are extremely effective for monitoring aviation safety culture are:
- Average number of hazard reports submitted per employee per month;
- Average days to complete corrective actions;
- Average length of employment in company;
- % of employees with over 5 years of employment;
- Average turnover rate per year;
- % of safety issues with human factor root causes;
- Average end-of-training assessment scores; and
- Average number of days for new employees to submit first hazard report.
Metrics like the above show the kind of safety behavior that involves:
- Situational awareness;
- Hazard identification competency;
- Teamwork and Norms; and
- Quality of safety behavior, as many of the above metrics will improve/deteriorate directly in response to safety behavior.
Above all else, employee performance monitoring is the best use of leading indicators.
Safety Promotional Materials to Monitor Safety Culture
Feedback from a couple of methods of safety promotional efforts is also an effective way of monitoring safety culture. The first of these materials is surveys. Safety surveys are extremely effective promotional materials. Best uses for safety surveys to monitor aviation safety culture are:
- Make surveys anonymous;
- Ask questions about employees satisfaction with the safety program;
- Be frank with questions, even if the questions are uncomfortably “close to home”;
- Make questions quantifiable and trackable; and
- Use surveys semi-annually (or other similar time frame) and plot data on graphs for total survey scores and average scores of individual questions.
Safety surveys provide safety management with a golden opportunity for quantifying safety attitudes and safety behaviors.
A second safety promotional tools that is excellent for monitoring aviation safety culture are safety meetings. This type of training materials isn’t quantifiable. However, observing employee participation in safety meetings is still valuable.
Safety Training to Monitor Safety Training
Ideally, aviation safety training should correlate directly to performance. When aviation safety training has no noticeable effect on safety performance, it indicates that:
- Safety training is not quality;
- Type of safety training is not most effective;
- Employees don’t care about the training.
Other safety culture monitoring activities should inform what safety training is most relevant for improving safety performance. That done, end of course assessments should be given and monitored. These assessments
- Give employees incentive to take training seriously;
- Provide quantifiable results for safety training;
- Help management ensure that the best training is being used; and
- Give management comparison point for training vs. other safety culture monitoring activities.
Restructure SMS for Maximizing Safety Culture Monitoring
Not all aviation safety management systems are built equally. Some SMS structures are better build to monitor safety culture activities. Some hallmarks of aviation SMS programs that are built for safety culture are:
- Using integrated aviation SMS software;
- Having an aviation safety database;
- Integrated quality safety management systems (QSMS) – i.e. no conflict of interest between quality and safety while completing duties; and
- A plethora of checklists, procedures, and ease-of-use for submitting hazard reports and other SMS activities.
Restructuring your SMS can be extremely beneficial for some risk management programs ability to monitor and encourage safety culture.
Here is another resource that can be very beneficial for monitoring safety performance: