Continuous Nurturing Required
Safety Culture…Continuous Nurturing Required
By Bob Conyers
Sr. Manager, Safety Management, Baldwin Aviation Inc.
Culture is to organizations what personality is to individuals—every person has one and every organization has one. Whether that culture is supportive or stifling, transparent or guarded, inclusive or selective, it represents the way an organization behaves. In aviation, a safety culture is more specific than an organizational culture because all aspects of culture (values, beliefs, behaviors, standard operating procedures) are examined through the lens of safety.
One of the many ways to define a safety culture is a set of beliefs, values, customs and behaviors that members of a group use to relate to their world and each other about safety.
Simply put, a safety culture is the way we do things around here.
Aviation expert, Dr. James Reason, said, “If you are convinced that your organization has a good safety culture, you are almost certainly mistaken… A safety culture is something that is strived for but rarely attained—the process is more important than the product.”
Just like in a chemistry lab, a “culture” grows given the conditions of its environment. Understanding your organization’s environment as it relates to safety is the first step. A safety culture survey/assessment can shed some light on your current safety culture environment, and identify key areas where nurturing is required.
Late last year, Baldwin Aviation reported internally the findings of safety culture surveys conducted for a number of clients. It was surprising to find that at the time, safety culture health seemed not to be related to the size of an organization or to the longevity of its Safety Management System (SMS).
On a 5-point scale, safety culture grades ranged from 3.60 – 4.75, but with little correlation to the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) status of the organization. We have continued offering the same safety culture survey since then, and there now seems to be a higher level of correlation with IS-BAO status.
Before we “do the numbers,” it is important to understand that the community of IS-BAO registered operators has been maturing for several years. Significant growth in the program occurred between 2006 – 2012, with the number of registered operators now somewhat steady at a little over 700. Over the last four years, relatively few new operators have joined the fold at Stage 1, while those who were registered at Stage 1 or Stage 2 have matured to become Stage 2 or Stage 3 operators.
We have noticed the same trend among the Baldwin community for those who are IS-BAO registered. The Safety Culture Survey measures four attributes of the operator’s safety culture, as well as assigning an overall safety culture score. The four measured attributes are Top Management Attention, Just Culture, Full Participation of Employees, and Continuous Improvement in Performance.
Top Management focuses on the actual involvement and commitment from the accountable executive(s) to safety within the enterprise/corporation. Leading a safety initiative from the top down is the only way a positive safety program can become embedded into the corporate culture.
Just Culture is top-down focused as well because it relies on the top management to communicate, support and uphold the concept for a just culture. A just culture is one where front-line operators and others are not punished for actions, omissions or decisions that are commensurate with their experience or training, but where gross negligence, willful violations and destructive acts are not tolerated.
Full Participation is sensitive to safety relationships and communication among the team. It relies on a bottom-up approach, where the team is proactively involved in all aspects of safety. Organizations often have strong participation when a strong just culture exists.
Continuous Improvement encourages the team to look for ways to improve the safety of the operation through full participation, and supports changes to policies and procedures. A strong safety operation never becomes static; it is always in continuous motion striving to identify future hazards before they become a threat to the operation.
A number of operators have completed the safety culture survey within the past twelve months. They were nearly evenly divided between those who are at Stage 2 or Stage 3 and those who are relatively new to IS-BAO or not yet registered at all. In short, those who have had SMS in place for several years scored significantly higher across the board. The average rate is 4.13. It is heartening to see that operators are making noticeable progress in the development of their safety cultures. We even saw two very small operators with one airplane and only a few employees stand out among the rest. In the face of all the complaints that SMS is too hard for small operators, these organizations show that it can be done. Both have successfully reached IS-BAO Stage 2 status and continue to make improvements that ready them for Stage 3.
Looking at the overall results, maybe those safety culture discussions that have been taking place throughout the industry are taking hold. However, there is no place in a safety culture for complacency. A strong safety culture must be continuously nurtured and supported by everyone in the organization.
How does your organization stand up against these results? Is your safety culture healthy? Is it getting stronger? Take a Safety Culture Survey and see for yourself. Use the results to guide you where to focus on making adjustments. Global Aerospace customers have the added benefit of being able to participate in a confidential Safety Culture Survey at no cost to their organization. Contact your Global Aerospace Underwriter or Baldwin for more information.
Customized Safety Management programs developed by experienced and credentialed safety professionals include training, manual management and SMS implementation/software. Based on ICAO and other international standards and regulations, Baldwin’s programs support Business Aviation, Charter, FBO, Airport, Medical Transport and Regional Airlines by providing advanced software, an outstanding customer experience and our Commitment to Excellence.
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