Airline and Airport Hazard Reporting Cultures Are Suffering
Most safety managers don't have the luxury of a healthy hazard reporting culture in their aviation safety management system (SMS). Managers daily struggle to boost their hazard reporting percentages to 10%, or one report per month for every ten employees.
In 1976, NASA and the FAA recognized that a neutrally-operated confidential aviation hazard reporting system was required to engender trust among the aviation community. Furthermore, the reason that NASA operates the largest confidential aviation hazard reporting system in the world is due to the fact that these regulators knew that the aviation community was distrustful of any system controlled by the regulators.
In most aviation cultures today, the "Just Culture" is commonly preached and occasionally practiced. In this article, we shall discuss how safety managers can improve their hazard reporting culture with the assistance of a secure, confidential, aviation hazard reporting system.
What Is a Confidential Aviation Hazard Reporting System?
Managers and line employees alike must understand what a confidential system actually means and what are their protections. There is often confusion between:
- Anonymous reporting systems; and
- Confidential reporting systems.
Most aviation SMS programs believe in "anonymous" reporting. Anonymous reporting means exactly what the title proclaims: nobody should know who reported the hazard, accident, incident or irregularity.
Furthermore, ethical airlines and airports that profess to have an anonymous hazard reporting system do not dig deeper to investigate who reported the issue. Believe me, I know because I've worked with hundreds.
Confidential reporting is where the reporter is not hiding behind a veil or anonymity; however, only the safety team and the reporter know who reported the issue. Modern aviation SMS databases treat confidential issues as sensitive issues. Confidentially reported hazards are restricted from all other managers, and in most cases, even the upper-level executives.
Confidential reports are typically filed when an employee wishes to report safety hazards without the knowledge of his immediate supervisor. After all, the ultimate objective of any hazard reporting system is to save lives and protect resources.
Confidential Aviation Hazard Reporting Systems Engender Trust
If your airline or airport's SMS program inadvertently leaks an anonymous or confidential issue, your safety department may spend years rebuilding lost trust. The purpose of a confidential reporting system is to promote safety for everyone. I don't believe that it is enough for safety managers to simply tell employees that your airline or airport has anonymous and confidential reporting.
Proactive safety managers must continue to preach this song: "anonymous and confidential reporting!" There will be a few disbelievers, but after time passes and no repercussions come from this system, employees will begin to trust the system and be more inclined to report hazards to the safety department.
In the long run, this incessant preaching will benefit your safety culture. Product advertisers will often claim that the message must be seen between three to seven times before the message is absorbed. This is called "effective frequency."
Final Thoughts on Confidential Hazard Reporting Systems
Aviation hazard reporting systems remain a critical component to every SMS program. Anonymous reporting is great when employees truly wish to remain unknown. However, this isn't always beneficial to the safety team. There are often cases when more information must be gathered during the risk management investigation phase. Anonymous reporting become a burden to the safety team when more information is required.
With this knowledge, it is important that safety managers communicate the difference between anonymous reporting and confidential reporting.
Make sure that anonymous and confidential reporting is highlighted in your airline or airport's safety policy. When these topics are promoted by top management, employees may be skeptical at first; therefore, encourage top management to reinforce anonymous and confidential reporting in your safety newsletters.
Finally, encourage all employees to submit confidential reports whenever possible. This allows the safety team to follow up and manage organizational risk more effectively.
And how does a confidential reporting system save lives? Most employees won't report freely and honestly when their reports are transparent for the entire airline or airport. And the report that was not reported may be the one that makes a difference between life and death.
Below are some demo videos of an aviation hazard reporting system that supports both anonymous and confidential reporting.
Image by Don't blame me.