Complements: Positive safety culture

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Establishing a positive safety culture

There is no single approach to establishing a positive safety culture, but no effort to establish a safety culture will succeed without top management commitment and leadership. First and foremost, top management commitment is a fundamental and necessary requirement of building a positive safety culture.

The next step in establishing a safety culture is to assess its current culture, which is not a trivial task. In 2000 Professor James Reason presented a safety culture checklist to the assembled masses at the Manly 2000 conference, an initiative of the Australian Aviation Psychology Association., such as mindful of danger, accepting setbacks, regular meetings, data, money vs. safety, reporting encouraged, trust, blame, acknowledge error, and others. An integrated scoring system rates the user’s responses to the issues; scores range from 0

The Keil Centre, a private company of chartered psychologists located in the United Kingdom, has developed a Safety Culture Maturity® Model that has been applied in several industries, including aviation. Patterned after the Capability Maturity Model, a process model developed for the software industry and now used in other domains, the Safety Culture Maturity Model has five levels: (1) Emerging, (2) Managing, (3) Involving, (4) Cooperating, and (5) Continually Improving. The model enables organizations to determine their current level of maturity and develop plans to reach the next level.

There are numerous other readily-available tools for assessing safety culture in an organization, including self-assessment tools. These normally include interviews, questionnaires, observations, and review of documentation.

An organization needs to understand its safety performance in order to establish a positive safety culture. If it is not crystal clear to the organization how its safety performance ranks against its competitors, then a benchmarking study is in order (see Chapter 3 for a discussion on benchmarking). A properly designed benchmarking study will reveal a great deal about the current state of the organization’s safety program as well as that of its competitors

A safety policy statement from top management is vital to establishing a positive safety culture. The statement should be direct, clear, and unambiguous about what the organization’s expectations are and who is responsible for achieving them. The policy statement should be widely disseminated throughout the organization. This creates an awareness of the importance of a positive safety culture, and this awareness must continually be fostered by communication.

Responsibility for safety should be established at the appropriate levels throughout the organization. Usually this means that operations personnel should be tasked with safety. And, good management dictates that if people are responsible for something they also should be held accountable. That means that job descriptions and performance reviews should reflect that responsibility.

To establish a positive safety culture, operations managers have to buy-in to the concept and its importance before they can sell it to others. These managers are trained to be focused on their areas of responsibility. Making safety one of “their areas of responsibility” as discussed above is an important step. Another key is to link the safety culture with the operations and processes with which they’re most familiar. Establishing that linkage will enable the managers to define their roles in safety on-par with their roles to deliver high quality flight instruction, operate an excellent airplane fueling program, provide excellent aircraft maintenance services, or whatever their task may be.

In large, more complex operations, it might be useful to form a team or teams to assist with the transition. Unions and other working groups should be involved in this process from the outset to build trust and support for the effort. This team should be tasked to create a blueprint for culture change that will cascade throughout the organization. The blueprint is designed to engage successive layers of management and workers in the change process in a deliberate, structured manner. The relationship between the transition team and the operations managers must be made clear, and it should be understood by all that the operations managers, not the transition team, retain responsibility for safety.

Eventually, the worker on the “shop floor” sees that management is committed to safety. When workers observe that management communicates safety information frequently, aggressively attempts to discover the root causes of safety problems, and makes decisions that are in the best interest of safety (even when some expense is incurred or profit foregone), culture will begin to change. Once that change starts and workers see evidence of improved safety, the momentum for change increases. Therein is the inextricable link between a positive safety culture and Safety Management Systems

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