SMS Pro Aviation Safety Software Blog 4 Airlines & Airports

How to Engage Difficult Employees in Aviation SMS

Posted by Christopher Howell on Sep 23, 2019 6:00:00 AM Find me on:

Reporting Safety Hazards Is Not Enough?

How to Engage Difficult Employees in Aviation SMS

For most aviation service providers, the simple act of getting employees to report potential safety hazards is a constant challenge.

Expectations of the majority of employees are:

  • Showing up to work (on time in some cultures);
  • Collecting the paycheck (on-time is preferable); and
  • Expecting employers to provide a safe workplace.

However, every employee has a responsibility to ensure operations remain safe for all stakeholders.

Is hazard identification and hazard reporting enough to ask from employees as they participate in your organization's safety initiatives?

What else should employees be doing for your required aviation safety management system (SMS)?

Without the support of all employees, the aviation SMS will never reach its full potential. Money will be left on the table - meaning that every successful SMS is dependent on safety culture and employee participation.

The raw ingredients in an aviation SMS come predominantly from safety reporting and audit activities. Employees are instrumental in providing these inputs by participating in effective safety reporting activities. Without employee participation, the organization can still have an SMS; however, the organization will never benefit fully from reduced risk and missed opportunities.

Related Aviation Safety Reporting Articles

Take Safety Culture

Reporting Potential Safety Hazard Is a Bare Minimum

Ground crew at airport

80% of companies have trouble encouraging employees to participate in their SMS implementations. What does this tell you? 80% of companies have a failing SMS implementation? Maybe not...

On paper, we know that 80% of aviation service providers do not fail their aviation SMS audits. I guess that the number is closer to 3-5%. The number is probably closer to zero in countries where SMS auditors are:

  • Paid to come back and do another audit; or
  • Outright paid a "fee" to report favorably.

Regardless of your situation, I'm willing to bet that you have a culture where hazard reporting is not optimal. In your case, why is hazard reporting a problem?

  • You lack good tools that allow employees to easily report safety concerns?
  • Employees don't feel management will fix "my reported safety issue?"
  • Employees don't know how to report?
  • Your hazard identification training nonexistent or inadequate?

In many cases, employees don't know what to look for. How are they supposed to know what a hazard is? Most aviation SMS training for line employees is to discuss:

  • An overview of aviation SMS;
  • Who is the safety manager?
  • Non-punitive actions toward reporter for submitting safety reports;
  • How to report anything suspicious? And maybe
  • What happens after you report a safety concern?

Does your SMS training teach employees what is a hazard? Or do you simply tell them:

If it looks like it may cause an accident, try to fix it. If you can't fix it immediately, report it.

If this is your hazard identification training, then there are significant opportunities to make it better. At a bare minimum, you should be discussing hazards, their associated risks, and the controls of your organization's employees to keep the hazards from affecting operations.

Related Hazard Identification Articles

If hazard reporting is not your problem, then you may be asking yourself, "What else can I expect employees to do in our SMS?" Keep reading, as here are some suggestions to increase employee participation in your SMS.

List of Activities to Monitor in Aviation SMS Implementations

  • Number of reported issues by employee;
  • Average number of reported issues per employee;
  • Number times logged into safety program;
  • Last time employee logged into safety program;
  • Number of tasks performed on time;
  • Number of messages read on time;
  • Recent review of safety policies;
  • Recent review of duties and responsibilities to safety program;
  • Expiring training and qualifications; and
  • Recent review of the SMS organizational chart.

Safety Performance Monitoring Workflow for Aviation SMS

Challenges of Monitoring Aviation SMS Performance

It is easy to pick an activity that you want to monitor, but in most cases, safety managers do not have the appropriate tools to monitor employee behaviors. The safety survey has been the most ubiquitous tool for monitoring employee behavior and attitudes for the past twenty years.

From my perspective, safety surveys seem to be an obligatory, non-intrusive tool that safety managers administer because regulatory agencies and SMS consultants think it is a good idea. Sure, it is a good idea, but safety surveys certainly don't shape a culture, especially an unhealthy safety reporting culture.

How often do you perform surveys? Once a year? Twice, perhaps? The remaining time, you have little control to actively change your safety culture because you lack the proper tools.

Related Aviation SMS Safety Survey Articles

Options for Safety Managers Shaping Safety Culture

Safety managers today have options to change unhealthy hazard reporting cultures.

  1. Do nothing;
  2. Perform obligatory safety surveys;
  3. Post regular read-and-sign safety messages;
  4. Send out regular safety newsletters;
  5. Post safety promotion posters;
  6. Hold unengaging safety meetings; or
  7. Aggressively and dutifully monitor employee safety performance.

If you are complaining that you cannot engage employees in your boss' safety program, then you should not be complaining, but act and do something about this challenge. The problem will not go away by itself. The sooner the safety team acts to increase employee involvement, the sooner the organization will increase the benefits of SMS and reduce losses.

Management should be expecting a return on their investment. An SMS should not be seen as simply a required program demanded by regulatory authorities. Your SMS has the potential to TRULY reduce losses and indicate areas of operational efficiencies.

Related Articles on Aviation SMS Benefits

Engaging Difficult Employees in Safety Program

Monitoring Safety Performance of Employees in aviation safety management systems (SMS)

Unfortunately, many employees refuse to participate in the safety program unless they have something to gain.

When disenfranchised employees know their activities cannot be monitored effectively, then they know you have no ammunition to hold over their heads when it comes time for salary review or career advancement opportunities.

The solution is simple: a short-term employee monitoring program.

Short-term is the key.

Once employees are engaged and the culture has changed, then there may be little reason to continue employee safety performance monitoring. We all like to believe that employees come to work and will behave in the best interests of the "aviation system," but we know this is not the case.

Employee safety performance monitoring should be another tool in your SMS tool kit.

Final Thoughts on Engaging Difficult Employees

Most employees care about their personal safety and the safety of those immediately around them. It is human nature to focus on what is in front of us, i.e., what is important to us at that moment in time.

When employees neglect to participate in the SMS, they are telling you the SMS is not important to them. If I had employees like this, I would ask myself, "How do I show employees that this SMS thing is important not just to management but also to them?"

Show employees some value. What is that "value?"

Not all employees are motivated by the same things. Some want recognition. Others may value time off from work or salary increases.

One thing employees don't value is having somebody's foot on the back of their neck telling them that they must participate in the SMS. The "strong-arm" approach should not be your first strategy to motivate employee participation. We all aspire to follow the tenets of just culture, but there are times when difficult employees need a foot on the back of their necks, even if it is for a short time.

Good luck.

To see how your company can easily monitor the safety performance of employees, watch this following video for some good ideas.

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Last updated in July 2023

Topics: 4-Safety Promotion

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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