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
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
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?