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A lack of accidents does not indicate safety. It’s more than pretty airplanes, fancy uniforms, or a great marketing strategy. A safe airline will have a strong safety culture. Safety culture is the essence of how the organization operates, and is identified by five critical sub-components to include a reporting culture, a just culture, a flexible culture, an informed culture, and a learning culture.
Reporting cultures exist where open communication and reporting safety related information is not only encouraged, but rewarded. Ground floor employees are working in the field and are the closest to the operation, and the first to identify hazards. Operations must have systems in place for these employees to report without fear of retaliation.
A just culture is where fairness prevails and those people who report are listened to, right or wrong, there is always something to learn. Honor, ethics, and leadership are the core of a just culture. There are no special favors for the good old boys, everyone is a valued employee, and they all have the same opportunity as everyone else.
In a flexible culture, leadership will adapt and shift from a hierarchy structure to a flatter structure where control passes to those employees making the decisions, where the system can adapt to 'on the spot decision making' versus an ivory tower mandate. Silos are replaced with a cross-networking structure.
A learning culture is where employees learn, grow, and improve the overall system. Every experience can be a learning moment, and information sharing is key. Without a strong reporting culture, that is flexible and just, learning will be hard pressed.
An informed culture indicates that management has the experience and knowledge, not only about the technical aspect of the operation but they also understand the psychology of people. This knowledge is supported by diversity and subject matter experts, and will determine the safety of the organization.
The FAA states, “All levels of management must actively promote and provide leadership to foster a positive safety culture,” and further defines safety culture as, “the shared values, action, and behaviors that demonstrate a commitment to safety over competing goals and demands” (FAA, 2013a, p. 9).
Leadership is key to a Safety Culture
DOT Safety Culture
The department of transportation (DOT) safety council identified the most critical elements of a safety culture:
- Leadership is clearly committed to safety.
- There is open and effective communication across the organization.
- Employees feel personally responsible for safety.
- The organization practices continuous learning.
- There is a safety-conscious work environment.
- Report systems are clearly defined and non-punitive.
- Decisions demonstrate that safety is prioritized over competing demands.
- Mutual trust is fostered between employees and the organization.
- The organization is fair and consistent in responding to safety concerns.
- Training and resources are available to support safety (FAA, 2013a, p. 9).
Why is Safety Culture Important?
Safety Culture is the foundation is of Safety Management Systems (SMS). SMS is an FAA mandate, required for all US airlines, January 2018, that will improve the safety of the operation. However, without a Safety Culture, an SMS will be nothing but lip service.
Does your airline meet
all aspects of a safety culture?
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Federal Aviation Administration. (2013a, May 8). Safety Management System 8000.369A. Retrieved from http://www.faa.gov/documentlibrary/media/order/8000.369a.pdf