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Safety Culture?

Old 6th Dec 2021, 01:52
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Safety Culture?

Having seen this term bandied about the industry over the years, notably in the paraphernalia produced by regulators and in incident and accident investigation reports. What does it actually mean? The inference is, it is the result of collaboration of a collective of people across an organisation that ultimately influence operational standards. That is not consistent with my experience over the years in this industry. My observation is that operational standards are influenced by those who have the authority to change them. I have observed an organisation that underwent changes to it's operational standards, most of which were a reduction to the existing (e.g. less fuel reserves, recency etc). There was no collective involvement in those processes, it was the work of one or two individuals. Anyone who has worked across the broad arena of this industry will be well adversed with the bullying and intimidation that resides within it, so despite these safety management systems prescribing individual's responsibility and the procedures involved to bring about improved safety outcomes, it is very unlikely that anyone will challenge those in authority (unless it is something very obvious like filling in the big hole behind the entrance door). Mainstream airlines may be more diligent in this area however, in my opinion, that is due to the legal liabilities involved with the carriage of fare paying passengers.
In summary, is organisational "safety culture" real or an excellent piece of wordsmith to promote the idea that such a thing exists?
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Old 6th Dec 2021, 03:47
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Safety Culture is an aspiration, recommended by everyone from ICAO/IATA and down. In my limited experience, the extent to which it is adopted is dependent on how well an industry is regulated and what additional pressures are placed on management to introduce such a culture.
Every organisation wants to have a culture - the shared values, attitudes, and practices that characterize an organization. There are said to 4 main types Clan, Adhocracy, Hierarchy, and Market. Note that safety is not included, so where does it fit? IMO it can appear under all of them except Adhocracy. One website gives a motto for such an organisation as “Risk it to get the biscuit.”!

Sidney Dekker (The Field Guide to Understanding Human Error - Ashgate Publishing - 2006) encapsulates safety culture as "a culture that allows the boss to hear bad news". He says that it requires Management Commitment, Management Involvement, Employee Empowerment, Incentive Structures, and Reporting Sytems
Your concentration on operational standards is too narrow although, assuming you are a pilot, I can understand why that would be your focus. I envisage an organisation where anyone can raise a safety issue if they think that they have identified one. They would then be congratulated, shown, or included in the investigation, rewarded depending on the outcome, and recognised within the organisation for being part of the "company culture". The larger an organisation gets, IMO the harder such a culture is to maintain. It only takes one poor manager to undo all the good that has been done by others.

A safety culture can be real but regrettably, I too have never worked in an environment where such a culture is not continually beefed up or watered down. To finish again with a Sidney Dekker quote:
  • Complex systems are not basically safe
  • Complex systems are a trade-off between multiple irreconcilable goals (eg Safety v Efficiency)
  • People have to create safety through practice at all levels of an organisation
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Old 6th Dec 2021, 06:11
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An oft-quoted idea is that in a just culture, honest mistakes are not persecuted, whereas wilful disobedience of rules and procedures is not tolerated. This works to an extent, but as always there are shades of grey.

Even if money was no object, a business or other organisation still couldn't tolerate recurrent 'honest' mistakes if they were rooted in incompetence. To my way of thinking, I guess it comes down to:
- doing your best to recruit, train and mentor personnel with potential, as best you can;
- encouraging people to speak up honestly when they f*** up;
- dealing with those f*** ups by real efforts to find root causes and fixing them with changes to procedures / retraining / education rather than simply shooting the guilty bastard;
- notwithstanding the above, having proper standardisation systems and if someone isn't able to consistently maintain the standard, having ways to move them out while respecting their worth as a person.

It may not have happened everywhere in the RAAF while I was there, but the helicopter squadrons of the time did a pretty good job of an honest and I'd say just culture. Private enterprise is harder because the financial cost of a mistake is more starkly visible, and lines are more easily blurred. No matter what, management have to be fair dinkum about it or it'll never work.

(Edited to say pity I didn't set up a new account with a name like Mister Proach just to keep it consistent ...)
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Old 6th Dec 2021, 06:42
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What you wrote is a good essay regarding definitions about platforms & structures to promote a "safety culture" however, in my opinion it when it comes to matters concerning operational practices in the context of pilotage, I think the culture exists no further than the definitions section of manual (because it is a requirement). If in the findings of a accident report you see the words like "the company had a poor safety culture", what does that really mean? Was the "safety culture" poor or was the reduction in operational practices that majorly contributed to the accident the result of one individual empowered to make those changes (aka the "new person in charge"). I think on many occasions investigative findings that use words like "a lack of safety culture" is an obfuscation to conceal the truth.
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Old 6th Dec 2021, 07:28
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You're probably right in that the term's sometimes used as a smokescreen or buzzword. However, if you accept that accidents generally don't happen in isolation but are the culmination of chains of events and made more or less likely by pre-existing conditions (many of them personality-driven, e.g. is the boss a sociopath, how tight is the money, do people come here to just build hours and move on, do the employees generally get on or is it everyone for themselves ... etc etc) then safety culture becomes a more tangible thing.

In essence, do we really care about quality, efficiency and dare I say integrity, or are we all about appearances? Anyway, I digress, but the term 'safety culture' can mean something or nothing depending on who's bandying it around, is the simple truth.
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Old 6th Dec 2021, 08:11
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When push comes to shove executives/commercial part of businesses are not interested in it. I have seen investigations start pointing toward in that direction but as soon as that happens it gets shut down very very quickly. Operations people and pilots sort of get it but anyone from the Business/Commercial side of a operational are Koala Bears when it comes to Safety Culture.
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Old 6th Dec 2021, 12:32
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Originally Posted by non_state_actor View Post
When push comes to shove executives/commercial part of businesses are not interested in it. I have seen investigations start pointing toward in that direction but as soon as that happens it gets shut down very very quickly. Operations people and pilots sort of get it but anyone from the Business/Commercial side of a operational are Koala Bears when it comes to Safety Culture.
if that’s the case then the organisations you witnessed didn’t have a safety culture. Safety culture starts at the top, if there is no buy-in from the executive level it doesn’t exist in the organisational safety sense of the term.
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Old 6th Dec 2021, 13:30
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The existence of a Safety culture and a Just culture, will depend on the Organisational culture.

A SMS is a legal requirement, but one of the key requirements for a SMS to work, is for there to be a Reporting culture. For there to be a reporting culture, there needs to be active examples of a just culture, otherwise people are too afraid to self-report.

The culture of an organisation comes from the top. The fish rots from the head down. So, what is encouraged and rewarded in the company, what is punished or frowned upon?

If organisational culture is described as "the way we do things around here" its down to what employees see as normal/acceptable behaviour.

If employees are encouraged to adopt a "culture of conscious enquiry" where every employee looks critically at what they do and how they do it, without fear, you have the makings of a great safety culture. Without this attitude, you have an acronym that satisfies a legal requirement,


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Old 6th Dec 2021, 22:39
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A buddy of mine who works in a safety first company was told following a fairly significant safety culture issue that he “had a problem for every solution” and “show me all these accidents we’re supposedly having”. The fish most certainly rots from the head and safety appears to be a matter of cashing in on your past record in the hope that it translates to the future.
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Old 6th Dec 2021, 23:19
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It’s all bullshit and buzz words.
Yet to work for a company that honestly believes in any of it.
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Old 7th Dec 2021, 00:43
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Originally Posted by geeup View Post
It’s all bullshit and buzz words. Yet to work for a company that honestly believes in any of it.
Bingo!!! What geeup said x 10.

Companies waffle on with lots of tough talk about ‘safety this’ and ‘safety that’. It’s all bullshit and the vast majority of senior executives espouse the virtues of safety only so that they can tick regulatory boxes, receive clean external audit reports and probably get a reduction in insurance premiums. It’s a crock of shit.

At the end of the day, and only with reference here to the vast majority of commercial pilots, you don’t need some knob from CASA or some idiot CEO preaching to you about how to ‘work, act, and be safe’. Safety underpins everything that you do because pretty much no airline pilot wants to act ‘unsafe’ and turn themselves into a thousand fractured pieces in the bottom of a smoking hole, or turn themselves into a smear on a hillside.
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Old 7th Dec 2021, 00:51
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Originally Posted by Paragraph377 View Post
Bingo!!! What geeup said x 10.

Companies waffle on with lots of tough talk about ‘safety this’ and ‘safety that’. It’s all bullshit and the vast majority of senior executives espouse the virtues of safety only so that they can tick regulatory boxes, receive clean external audit reports and probably get a reduction in insurance premiums. It’s a crock of shit.

At the end of the day, and only with reference here to the vast majority of commercial pilots, you don’t need some knob from CASA or some idiot CEO preaching to you about how to ‘work, act, and be safe’. Safety underpins everything that you do because pretty much no airline pilot wants to act ‘unsafe’ and turn themselves into a thousand fractured pieces in the bottom of a smoking hole, or turn themselves into a smear on a hillside.
Yep and it's funny that when you fly with certain crew from the safety department, you know, the ones that continually find a way you bring in these buzz words to everything they do (almost likes they are doing it for the CVR or something ) they can be some of the worst and most dangerous people to fly with.
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Old 7th Dec 2021, 01:01
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And funnily enough, the safety managers who are serious about their job (as opposed to fluoro vest police / form filled in - job done merchants) tend to move on after one too many times being berated by the boss for not toeing the line and closing their eyes.
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Old 7th Dec 2021, 01:59
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Devil

"Your Safety Will Be Enhanced And It Will Cost You Less"............

A typical mantra 'of the time' to justify some supposed cost-cutting measures, which over time, have proved to be non-existent, as the costs are much more now than they ever were.

And, Who can say that the 'Safety' HAS been improved..??.

No Cheers.....
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Old 7th Dec 2021, 03:34
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Safety Culture in an airline is the same oxymoron as Corporate Ethics. Looks good for the regulator but is meaningless when it comes to managers securing the next rung on the management ladder. What P377 said is spot on. At the end of the day its the operational staff who want to get home at the end of a duty that make the airline safe.
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Old 7th Dec 2021, 03:51
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Originally Posted by Ex FSO GRIFFO View Post
"

And, Who can say that the 'Safety' HAS been improved..??.

No Cheers.....

And there-in lies the problem.

Every time you make a "safe" decision (delay, divert, cancel, carry more fuel, deny boarding etc), the only measurable outcome is actually negative! You've cost the company money, bad PR, delayed flights with knock-on effects and so on. You can't prove that there would have been an accident, incident or negative outcome if you had persisted with Plan A, whatever it was. And, because of that , the company is naturally going to ask you why you chose your course of action, which is fair enough, but its the way they ask and how they manage the process that will determine what sort of organisation they are and will determine whether others will feel safe making safe decisions (irony).

So, again, its the Management that will directly affect whether you will have a reporting culture, and therefore, what type of safety culture you will have.

In my experience, such a culture in smaller companies is rare, but there are definitely some Corporate Flight Departments out there trying (they can afford to), as well as many of the major Flag carrier airlines. The other place you can see the theory in action is the company's that hold "special mission" contracts, where they're more likely to lose the contract by taking risks than if they were to down tools or or execute Plan B.
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Old 8th Dec 2021, 23:19
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The comments support that "safety culture" is just a couple of words that read well on manuals, statements and reports. It doesn't exist in the real word. With respect to investigations, does use of the term "safety culture" provide a blanket cover for the true perpetrators to remain invisible? I guess it is a bit like workplace anti-bullying legislation, initially you think it is there to protect the workers however, once you become a victim of bullying and victimisation you realise it is there to protect the offenders. The only people you ever see involved in cases of bullying are politicians and high profile public officers. I have witnessed much more intimidation and victimisation (mainly at pilots ) in this industry than any other, so how does this supposed "safety culture" exist in an environment like that? How can the regulator not be aware of these practices? Don't many pilots join regulatory organisations to take refuge from that abuse?
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Old 9th Dec 2021, 00:21
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The regulator is aware, they are also powerless to change corporate cultures. Whether that is due to legal, lack of will or “other reasons” is anyones guess.

The false safety culture as described above is safely locked in position by the bullying a pilot will be subjected to if they choose to act out by being truly safe. Only a mater of time until there are statistics to prove it.
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Old 9th Dec 2021, 00:59
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The regulator is aware, they are also powerless to change corporate cultures. Whether that is due to legal, lack of will or “other reasons” is anyones guess.
It's because it will be fought out in the courts something which CASA seem to have an aversion to.

Last edited by non_state_actor; 9th Dec 2021 at 01:11.
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Old 9th Dec 2021, 04:54
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I recall a particularly very angry ex-chief pilot(he was always yelling, screaming and barking at the moon) who was the ex-chief pilot of a current Australian LCC and he previously worked for Qantas main competitor before they went bust in 2001. He would make Captains call him if they performed a go-around. He would demand details, berate the crew over the cost of the additional fuel burn and the flow-on delay to the next sector. Safety was never discussed, the bottom dollar was the only important consideration. Crews were scared to phone him. Unless the go-around was due to an another aircraft still on the runway you got blasted for being incompetent and blowing company money on a procedure detrimental to the airlines finances. No star jumps from him! As said earlier, most airlines are happy to preach about safety if they can see no added costs involved. A very immature and naive thought pattern. Throw money into the mix and suddenly this ‘safety first’ bullshit takes a back seat.
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