Safety is top-of-mind to everyone who works in aviation. But there’s still work to be done in translating good intentions into an efficient and consistent safety culture across all facets of an operation. To establish a successful safety culture, everyone has to be fully on board, which is easier said than done. So how can a safety officer rally their team into fully participating?
What does safety culture mean in aviation and why is it important?
Safety culture is the value, perception, and beliefs regarding risk embodied in an organization and among its employees. It’s about making safety a part of the organization’s fabric. In aviation, there is so much potential for things to go wrong, and consequences can be catastrophic. By establishing a safety culture, you can work towards minimizing mistakes, streamline processes, and developing a solid foundation for analyzing risk and mitigations.
How do you create a safety culture?
Knowing where to start when creating your safety culture can seem overwhelming. Here are a few steps to help you get started.
- Make complacency the enemy. An absence of major incidents may make it easy to think your operation isn’t at risk, but every operator who has had an incident probably thought the same thing. It’s important to recognize that mistakes can happen, so why not take every precaution? From top to bottom everyone in the organization needs to care about safety. Encourage your team to be open-minded and seek out their input on safety.
- Define key roles. While everyone needs to be involved, in order to keep the entire safety process moving, appoint a safety officer to make sure the goals you set are being achieved. In our experience, the most successful safety cultures are those where the safety officer is a champion that genuinely believes they can create a safer department, and are passionate about making that vision comes true. They manage the safety management system (SMS), analyze the data, monitor trends, and continually encourage other employees to participate.
- Scale activities to your flight department. The complexity of a safety culture varies according to the complexity of the organization. In a smaller flight department with fewer people and resources, the safety roles can be consolidated and everything should have a shorter more streamlined process flow. Larger flight departments may have more levels and a more complex multi-staged flow. Although the details of a safety culture will vary from operator to operator the essence of it remains the same.
- Keep people actively engaged and using the SMS. Everyone must be involved and contributing. Safety cannot just be handed down from the safety officer or the management team. When it comes to the implementation of a safety culture, the organization has to remain flat. All employees should have a voice with the right to give their input on safety but should also expect to contribute consistently.
- Focus on corrective actions rather than punishment. By creating a non-punitive culture, employees won’t have to fear repercussions if they bring a potential risk or error to light. This will help foster your team’s ability to speak up and truly participate in the organization’s safety.
- Be agile, a safety culture is not static. It should be treated as a living, breathing thing. It’s going to constantly evolve and change. This means monitoring your safety culture through periodic checks such as surveys, meetings, and reviews of participation, in order to measure employee engagement and sentiment.
- Make it part of your everyday activities. Safety culture must be fully ingrained in the organization, and be second nature for employees. While individual safety tasks may seem overwhelming, breaking them up into small chunks that can be performed little by little each day will make the process easy to incorporate.
The dos and don’ts of creating a safety culture
A solid safety culture doesn’t happen overnight: it needs time and nurturing. Now that you know where to start here are a few final tips.
- Think your past determines your future. Just because nothing has happened to your operation so far, doesn’t mean your future is protected.
- Do this just because everyone else does: Don’t do it because it’s a popular topic nowadays. You need to go into this wanting to make a difference if you hope to build a true culture among your team.
- Expect the safety officer to work miracles: The safety officer is only one person, and they will have their work cut out just getting everyone on board and participating. Don’t expect them to magically transform the department without anyone else’s contributions.
- Start small: Avoid overwhelming the team thereby losing buy-in. Instead, get your team involved gradually by asking them for small, reasonable actions.
- Make things as easy as possible: Find solutions that are easy and minimally intrusive. For example, safety management system software can help digitize and streamline your efforts – SMS doesn’t have to be a lot of work.
- Encourage employees to come forward: Adopt an open and non-punitive environment. By encouraging employees to acknowledge issues or mistakes, you’ll get a team that’s willing to discuss ways to improve, and a more accurate picture of safety in your organization.