SMS Pro Aviation Safety Software Blog 4 Airlines & Airports

3 Reasons Why Aviation Safety Culture Leads Directly to Safety Performance

Posted by Tyler Britton on May 11, 2019 6:06:00 AM

What Is Aviation Safety Culture

3 Reasons Why Aviation Safety Culture Leads Directly to Safety Performance

By definition, aviation safety culture is an organization’s commitment to safety. I tend to find this definition limiting.

Perhaps a better way to understand safety culture is the means of realizing safety success, in which commitment is just one part.

Of course, safety culture in the aviation industry needs to be coupled with an organized, compliant aviation safety management system (SMS) in order to increase an organization's ability for safety success. By safety success, I mean that your SMS implementation demonstrates:

  • Good performance on aviation safety audits;
  • Well-developed performance metrics;
  • High quality hazard identification and safety reporting culture; and
  • An aviation safety database that demonstrates a strong historical precedent of continuous improvement.

Related Aviation Safety Culture Articles

Safety culture is the “means” to success because it:

  • Reflects the attitudes in an organization;
  • Needs safety awareness to be successful;
  • It is exemplified by the behavior of employees at all levels of an organization; and
  • Indicates future commitment and safety performance.

Attitude, awareness, behavior, and commitment – these are the primary tenants of safety culture. Here are 3 ways aviation safety culture leads directly to safety performance.

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1 – Quality Safety Culture Entails Considerate Safety Behavior

Ground operation airport

Safety culture is something that happens on an organizational level and individual level. When aviation safety culture is successful, it always entails considerate safety behavior. Another way of saying this is that behavior demonstrates a commitment to the aviation SMS.

What is difficult about behavior is how to measure it. In other words, while it would be great for any safety manager to be able to say, “Employees in my organization behave extremely well,” what we really want is some proof.

Consider the following as quantifiable and trackable ways of measuring safety behavior:

  • Frequency of safety meetings;
  • Average end of training assessment test scores;
  • Average number of days to complete corrective preventative actions (CPAs);
  • Average number of days to close issues (organized by risk level);
  • Average number of reported issues per employee;
  • Number of incidents related to failure to follow checklist, policy, or procedure;
  • Number of high, medium, and low-risk issues reported over time; and
  • Number of updates to policies and procedures (including a number of new policies/procedures).

The above list demonstrates the kind of data that quantifies safety behavior. Each point requires specific action on the part of general employees and management in order to achieve safety success.

Related Aviation Safety Culture Articles

2 – New Employees Pose Less Risk

It’s no secret that new employees by far pose the greatest risk to safety in the aviation industry and beyond. For example, nearly 1/3 of all nonfatal occupational injuries that involved time away from work were suffered by workers with less than one year of service (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

New employees generally pose a risk because they are:

  • Unfamiliar with the work environment;
  • Impressionable to existing Norms in the work environment; and
  • Unfamiliar with existing policies/procedures.

A strong aviation safety culture successfully mitigates a considerable amount of risk involved with new employees because of strong safety culture:

  • Requires Teamwork that acts as a natural monitor and guide for new employees;
  • Exhibits very little negative Norms that could potentially lead a new employee into dangerous action;
  • Almost always has a strong precedent of safety training (induction and recurring); and
  • Will surely have strong leaders to keep new employees “on track” in terms of behaving safely.

Before organizations begin expanding, it greatly benefits them to pour resources into building a safety culture in order to mitigate exposure when hiring an influx of new employees.

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3 – Employees Perform When Boss Isn’t Watching

Office staff participate in Aviation SMS

What are you doing when your boss isn’t watching? Or, if you are the boss, what are your employees doing when you aren’t watching? In most organizations (we know from experience), employees only loosely follow policies and procedures when management isn’t around.

This is especially true when management doesn’t take an active role in its relationship with front-line employees.

One of the financial incentives in building a safety culture, besides saving money due to workplace injuries, is that workers are more productive because their work is consistent. This productivity does not come at the cost of safety. Rather, employees:

  • Are set back by safety issues less often;
  • Maintain working standards and adherence to company policy most of the time; and
  • Are better at monitoring and responding more quickly to their environment.

On the management side, managers can devote more time to important safety tasks, and less time to micromanaging employees and other managers. Good safety culture removes the burden of “authority” inherent in the top-down structure of aviation SMS implementations. Employees better manage themselves, and the top-down structure remains important for guidance rather than discipline.

Related Aviation Safety Culture Articles

Final Thought: Safety Culture Building Tips

Developing a mature safety culture is one of the hardest things to do in any safety program. It takes a lot of time, effort, resources, and overcoming of never-ending hurdles. A few simple ways to stimulate safety culture are:

  • Create a safety culture manifesto;
  • Be clear (in policies and practice) about teamwork and blamelessness (non-punitive safety culture);
  • Be clear that employees are expected to question and act;
  • Have an open dialogue about human error, without blaming; and
  • Build safety responsibility from the bottom up.

If you are interested in monitoring your safety culture, learn how to do it in this step-by-step guide for how to monitor safety performance.

Safety Performance Monitoring Workflow for Aviation SMS

Last updated in July 2023.

Topics: 3-Safety Assurance

Site content provided by Northwest Data Solutions is meant for informational purposes only. Opinions presented here are not provided by any civil aviation authority or standards body.



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