Got Safety Culture?

By Bill Johnson, PhD Chief Scientific and Technical Advisor for Human Factors in

Aircraft Maintenance Systems, FAA.

Capitalizing on selected questions, used for discussion in an FAA Airworthiness

Inspector’s Human Factors Workshop, Johnson

helps you to be introspective as you reconsider

your corporate safety culture.

The mere thought of another Ph.D. writing about

“Safety Culture” could cause you to flip to the next

article in this AMT magazine. Don’t do that! Try a

couple more paragraphs.Look for definitions of

safety culture. There are many. The good news is

that the definitions are redundant, containing the

same words and concepts.

Safety culture, like organizational culture, is founded on an organization’s shared

beliefs, attitudes, values, and commitment regarding the importance of safety at

every level of the organization. A strong safety culture requires unilateral knowledge

and commitment. Every person in the organization should be able to express, with

varying levels of detail, their personal commitment and job/task related contribution

to worker safety and safe flight.

While definitions of safety culture are abundant safety culture is intangible. It is not

an object or a written policy. An organization cannot “hold up and show” their safety

culture. While intangible, an organization’s safety culture is manifested by employee

attitude and behavior. It is visible based on how corporate leaders from every level

of management demonstrate their understanding of culture and their commitment to

safety. Demonstrated commitment can include training programs, voluntary

reporting with a just culture, establishment of formal measures to identify and

manage hazards, and sufficient equipment and procedures to enhance continuing

worker and flight safety.

Aviation Safety Inspectors Consider Safety Culture During Human

Factors Training

Regulatory compliance is one of many ways to ensure safety. A primary role of the

FAA Airworthiness Aviation Inspector is to ensure that the regulated entity, any

certificate holder, follows the rules. FAA’s Compliance Philosophy helps the ASI to

work with you to ensure compliance. Of course, mere compliance does not

guarantee a quality safety culture. Your FAA Inspector is not a safety culture

assessor. However, an insightful ASI can work with you to help identify challenges

and solutions before they evolve to a noncompliance or an undesirable event.

All FAA Airworthiness ASIs take a three-day maintenance human factors course.

FAA is one of the few regulators that offer such a course for their workforce. This

author sees the course as one of many demonstrated FAA Flight Standards

management commitments to organizational safety culture. The mere existence and

support of the three-day class shows that FAA management sees the importance of

the maintenance human factors topics. The class is a tangible demonstration of

safety culture.

The course covers the usual maintenance human factors fundamentals, like human

error, communication, fitness for duty, failure to use technical procedures, event

investigation, voluntary reporting, and more.

The course is structured around the PEAR Model, standing for People, the

Environment on which they work, the Actions that they perform, and the Resources

necessary to complete the work. Yes, the Dirty Dozen is included.

There is considerable discussion throughout the course proceedings. Average

aviation years of experience for this class are always greater than 25. Thus,

experience and aviation wisdom ensures powerful story telling. One unit of the

course considers safety culture by looking at demonstrated ways to consider an

organization's commitment to safety (aka, safety culture). Here are a few sample

ASI questions and expected company answers.

Voluntary Reporting Question

ASI Question: Show me the published written “Just Culture” policy and

steps for voluntary reporting

Sample Excellent Corporate Answer: Here is the policy. It is part of our Aviation

Safety Action Program, or a similar reporting method. It clearly explains the

voluntary reporting process and how such reports are processed. It delineates a

timely just culture decision-making process that protects workers who make

mistakes. It makes it clear that blatant procedural noncompliance, reckless behavior,

unfitness for duty, or falsification of records, and other actions are not protected by

the policy and not immune from regulatory or corporate punitive action. This

program has been instrumental in identification and management of hazards and

risk before it becomes an undesirable event. To maximize the value of this

voluntarily reported information we publish a quarterly newsletter of significant

reports. In addition we use voluntary reports as discussion items for shift change

and other safety meetings. We are working on a program to push this information to

worker mobile phones.

Human Factors Training Question

ASI Question: Show me the course outlines for your maintenance

human factors training

Sample Excellent Corporate Answer: We have three courses for maintenance

human factors. One is a two-hour introduction for new hires. The second is an eighthour

course for all employees. That course includes about two to four hours of

computer-based training of fundamentals.

It is followed by a four-hour event investigation and discussion class, with an

instructor. Our third class is the two-hour recurrent training which includes

information from our voluntary reporting, other event-based reports, and any

description of new practices/procedures. It is aligned with the EASA recurrent

training requirements and takes place on a 24-month recurring basis.

All employees, managers, and executives must take the human factors training. Our

instructors are usually promoted from the maintenance or maintenance training

ranks. Usually they have a college degree and an Airframe and Powerplant

Certificate but neither are firm requirements. All HF instructors must have taken a

train-the-trainer class and some human factors training outside of our organization.

We encourage our HF trainers to attend at least one human factors related meeting

at least annually.

Shift Turnover Question

ASI Question: Show me your shift turnover practices/process

Sample Excellent Corporate Answer: Of course, the shift turnover question is

somewhat dependent on the size and complexity of the shop/location. Our various

departments match the turnover to meet their specific requirements. There is no one

size fits all. In most cases we have designated lead mechanics who have the

responsibility to document the status of jobs from one shift to another. They have the

responsibility and are given sufficient shift overlap time to convey the status of all

tasks that transfer from one shift to the next. If there are complex procedures in

progress, the lead mechanic can ask personnel from the outgoing shift to stay on to

ensure proper handover. There is a shift turnover office at the worksite where the

meetings take place for every turnover. Job cards are used as the primary

documentation for job status. We have documentation to ensure that all appropriate

handover communications are clearly discussed and documented accordingly.

Incoming workers are required to check the last task performed prior to the shift

change. In our company the management and the workers recognize that shift

change, or within shift task turnover, presents a hazard. We treat shift and task

turnover very seriously.

Safety Culture Question

ASI Question: What evidence do you have to indicate that your company

has a positive safety culture?

Sample Excellent Corporate Answer: You can ask any worker on this floor and you

will get an answer to this question. We have had a lot of training about risk

assessment. The training is backed up with newsletters, signage, and plenty of heart

felt talk from company leadership. Every worker knows their particular jobs and can

talk about how their job performance affects overall attention to worker and flight

safety. We celebrate accident-free worker safety as much as we celebrate

schedules and maintenance quality performance. When a worker sees or perceives

a serious issue they are encouraged to report the potential hazard immediately. We

have seen management rush to buy new equipment when workers identify potential

safety risk. Voluntary reporting on safety-critical matters is always perceived as a

positive step toward continuing safety in our departments and for the company at

large. As workers we appreciate the quest for continuing safety. We get it!

Size Matters for a Safety Culture

The FAA Aviation Safety Inspectors human factors class includes inspectors from

the airlines, larger repair stations, and small general aviation organizations. That

diverse group of inspectors knows that one size safety culture does not fit all. Large

organizations have multiple shops and locations to manage and there may even be

a designated person to manage activities that foster culture. Small shops have fewer

people and fewer resources to help cultivate the right culture. Size does matter but

that is OK. As stated at the outset the key words include: shared beliefs, knowledge,

values, and commitments where every person in the organization can express their

personal commitment and demonstrated contribution to worker safety and safe

flight. Got safety culture?