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PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Non-Reporting Culture

There's a Sign! 

Photo from:

Yesterday I wrote about the elements of Safety Culture.  One of the easiest ways to identify if your organization has a positive safety culture is to ask employees if they are comfortable reporting safety related issues. If you hear employees speak of fear in reporting with comments such as, "I'm not saying anything, I need to keep my job", then the chances are your company may be lacking a positive reporting culture. Personally I think a reporting culture is one of the most important elements of a safety culture. 

Photo from

Without a reporting culture, supported by open communication, that encourages and rewards reporting safety related information and is free from retaliation, the opportunities to demonstrate flexibility will be non-existent, and there will be no opportunity to identify if the culture is just, informed, or provide areas for learning. Systems must be established that enable employees to report without fear of retaliation to support a positive safety culture.

I found the above photos on line. The statistics are appalling. During the final quarter of my doctoral course, I began researching elements of safety culture and associated retaliation. What I learned was nothing short of shocking:
I know of seven pilots, from multiple airlines, that have been pulled from flight status with a fitness for duty challenge due to mental health accusations in retaliation for reporting safety issues, and 24 additional pilots (I have yet to speak with) have been identified to be off duty for a similar reason. Airlines are using a mental health clause to retaliate against employees who have reported safety issues, and they can do it to anyone for any reason.  

These pilots are being paid because the company thinks it is only illegal to fire an employee for reporting safety. But they are ordered to go through horrendous psychiatric evaluations, with questioning and interrogation that nobody should be exposed to. They are set aside for months at a time, isolated from their airline family, humiliated, kept from flying, not allowed to maintain currency in the simulator, haunted by nightmares of the fiasco, and many end up just quitting. Therefore, the company thinks they are not liable for unjustly firing them.

The fact that the Germanwings crash is being used in support of and justification for this retaliatory tactic is one of the most criminal things an organization could do. Not only does this methodology harm the psyche of the pilot, that will be carried with them for life, but it creates a stigma for pilots to self report if they needed help. If this is a punishment from a manager, why would anyone who really had a problem come fourth? They wouldn't.
Mental health problems are a disability, not a punishment. For anyone to mock the disabled, by using their illness as a tactic to punish an employee who is attempting to make their work environment better, should take careful consideration of what they are doing. Many pilots who are facing this retaliation think there is nothing they can do until they are fired, that's not true.

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  1. Yeah even the company aside I think any medical issue, mental or physical, is a scary thing for a pilot to report.

    1. Yes. I agree. It would be difficult for someone to self report, because we are not addressing it correctly.

      I don't think the talk among the flight crews discussing this as a punishment, is supporting those who need help. Because, the punishment aspect is trying to get rid of employee permanently. But, we want pilots to self report so we can get them help to keep them... not get rid of them.

      So, the end goal is what causes this conflict, and ultimately what will keep those who need help from self reporting.

  2. Karlene, compliments for today's blog!
    That' a hell of an issue and it really needs to be discussed.
    People enthrusting their lives into the hands of a pilot need to be sure they are safe.

    1. An, this is so true. From all aspects. Mental Health is a serious issue, and some levels can be first detected by patterns of behavior such as excessive drinking, driving violations, accidents, interpersonal relationship problems, performance problems...etc. it's not one thing, but multiple signs might indicate there is something going on. Then we find out why the behavior. Often these manifestations stem from something else going on in the person's life, where the person is having difficulty handling the problem, or difficulty coping.

      There are many types of mental health problems, but normally, when a person is concerned for safety, and has no behavior issues it might be a sign that something else is at play versus an actual concern.

      Thank you for your comment!

  3. Thanks Karlene. That's one of the BEST posts you've ever made in this space and I agree with every word. -Craig

  4. UPS retaliates against PILOTS who report safety issues. UPS also coerces pilots with dui's, failure to submit to a chemical exam, pilots who stole from ups or were otherwise in trouble with UPS to write false statements about pilots who report safety issues.


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