May 19, 2014

Listen to an NBAA Flight Plan podcast on developing a positive safety culture, the fourth in a series on NBAA’s 2014 Top Safety Focus Areas.

The NBAA Safety Committee lists what it calls a “positive safety culture” as one of its 2014 Top Safety Focus Areas, and it is actively developing materials and strategies to help Member Companies push forward in the creation and development of such a culture.

“People sometimes struggle with this concept because they’ve never experienced it,” said Roger Baker, president of Safety Focus Group, a safety auditing company based in Fairfax, VA. “It can be like turning a battleship. But I define it simply as doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons and doing that every time.”

Consider the maintenance technician working alone late in the evening, Baker said. “She needs a step up to reach an access panel. She could grab a ladder, but that would not stop her if she started to fall. The right thing to do would be to fetch a work platform that would properly support her and help prevent an injury if she lost her balance.

“Even if no one is watching, even if she is in a hurry, even if it does not seem very high, she takes a moment to position the work platform because it is the right thing to do,” he added.

That, Baker explained, is how someone contributes to a positive safety culture. At the departmental or corporate level, that culture flows down from the organization’s leadership.

“It’s leadership accepting, encouraging and acknowledging the employees’ decision to do the right thing,” said Bill Grimes, vice president of safety for CitationAir, a division of Textron. Like Baker, Grimes is a member of the NBAA Safety Committee.

A positive safety culture is not a stand-alone entity, said Baker. Along with it comes a “just culture.”

“We’re human. We make mistakes. Sometimes, the equipment is frail and it causes mistakes. We need to learn from those mistakes and move on,” Baker explained. “That requires an environment where people aren’t afraid to admit their mistakes. Likewise, they aren’t afraid to speak up when they see mistakes are about to happen.”

A third element in the equation for a positive safety culture is trust, Grimes added. He offered the example of a flight crew going into an airport where conditions are slightly above minima. But because the crew does not feel comfortable with some aspect of the approach, they decide to try the approach again or head for the alternate airport.

“They need to know they’ll be supported by management,” he said. “That trust means people know they’ll be treated fairly based on a decision they made for safety’s sake.”

The NBAA Safety Committee is working on a number of items regarding positive safety culture, including strategies to help corporate leaders foster such an environment, and tips on reflecting it in the company’s goals, values and mission statement.