3 Ways to Encourage Participation in Your Aviation Safety Program
Many service providers struggle with overcoming the difficulty of generating participation and buy-in for their safety management program. However, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Employees in your organization will be much more likely to participate if you design your SMS to be:
- Inclusive – make sure all employees understand their role in the SMS;
- Interactive – make sure there is consistent feedback from safety management; and
- Effective – make sure that the safety program demonstrates continuous safety improvement.
Making sure that your SMS hits these bullet points does not need to involve sweeping changes or a huge effort on your part promoting the program. The truth is that with patience you can cultivate these values in your SMS in many subtle ways.
How to Make Your SMS Inclusive
The main stumbling block of many aviation safety programs is a lack-of inclusion of those at the operational level whose participation is most critical. Even though the program may be embraced by management, it often fails to be embraced by:
- Front line employees;
- Staff; or
- Other roles in your organization who do not see their tasks having any bearing on safety.
There are many reasons that such employees fail to participate:
- lack of time,
- skepticism about the program, and
- pressure to get work done.
Encouraging employees to report all concerns, even minor or trivial issues, is a valuable way to include all roles in your organization. Furthermore, it allows you to collect potentially meaningful data, as you may identify trends.
Per the ICAO Safety Management Manual, “A workplace in which personnel have been trained and are constantly encouraged to report their errors and experiences is a prerequisite for effective safety reporting”. Notice the emphasis on constantly in that statement.
Only by being encouraged constantly, both passively (department safety metrics, no-fault reporting methods) and actively (training, awards, feedback, compensation) will those on the operational level be willing to participate in a safety program.
Encouragement doesn’t have to only flow from the top down; it can also happen laterally or from the bottom up in the form of team-based recognition, continuous improvement (CI) boards and open door policies.
How to Make your SMS Interactive
Another barrier to obtaining full participation in an aviation safety program is the lack of interactive participation in training programs. From my personal experience, safety programs have meant spending several mind-numbing hours in front of a computer viewing slides or videos about safety, usually in the form of safety training.
The interaction with the content is often one-way and does not have the participant actively practice the skills that they were supposed to have learned.
Updating your safety training regimen to:
- Offer some choice in training content, such as:
- Safety Training Article Library where employees can choose training material from a limited set of approved options
- Having multiple formats for training, like articles, videos, slides, etc.
- Be ACTIVE, such as
- Emergency drills
- Mock safety scenarios
- On the job training
- Be specific to employees role in the safety program, such as
- Role based quizzes
- On the job training
- Be delivered by charismatic instructions
Take any subject in school, most notoriously math, and a poor educator will make the material deadly boring. A charismatic teacher can make any subject interesting.
By delivering content in a way that reinforces learning pathways in the brain by having the student take the lead in learning, permanent safety habits will be created.
How to Demonstrate an Effective SMS
Lastly, making sure that your safety program is effective will be important to make sure that it will succeed. Effective safety programs build confidence within the company that the SMS is actually making individuals safer.
If a safety program is ineffective it will create more damage and mistrust than whatever existed prior. According to the ICAO Safety Management Manual, there are five characteristics that are universally associated with effective safety reporting systems:
- Information – make sure safety data is as transparent as best fits your organization and is easily available;
- Flexibility – make sure that interactions between safety personnel and employees are friendly, encouraging, and positively reinforcing rather than policelike and hard-nosed;
- Willingness – make sure your commitments to safety are regularly reviewed and distributed/promoted;
- Accountability – make sure each role in your organization is well aware of their duties and responsibilities in the SMS; and
- Learning – see previous section on creating better training materials.
Making sure that your safety program incorporates all of these elements and that it is designed appropriately for the context (i.e. an airline vs. a small flight school) it is operating in is critical to ensuring effectiveness.
Special thanks to Imran Zaveri, a safety student who participate in our Aviation Safety Scholarship and wrote this article.