Thursday, January 31, 2013

Aviation Safety Culture

Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA) organized the Aviation Safety Culture 2013 (29-30 January 2013), an event that is designed to create a safety culture amongst the users of Dubai's Airports and to strength its position as a leading airport in terms of application of aviation safety standards.

The seminar, for want of a better word, discussed the Safety Management System (SMS) design and implementation which has been mandated by ICAO and picked up by national aviation authorities. It is not about the Policy Statement or the actual writing of the manual to satisfy regulatory requirements. It is about instilling a common safety culture. especially in multicultural work places with expatriates coming from more than 160 nations, with differing national cultures and levels of education.

An SMS manual looks at the practical side of things however, during implementation it fails to reach the grass roots, the people at the workplace. For SMS to be effective, its safety message has to be communicated to the employees that carry the organization. They are the people that need to be mentored, coached and motivated, who need to understand the safety message and how it affects them, their colleagues, the organization and their customers. They need to learn how to deal with pressures before they deal with processes and technology, it is about behavioural safety and consistent implementation. It is about an Organizational Culture that is able to override a National Culture when it comes to safety.
A good SMS  relies on people's competence and supports them in order to be able to recover from serious failures, especially those unusual and unpredictable.

A safety culture has several elements; Informed, Reporting, Just, Flexible and Learning. The toughest one is Just, the ability to balance between accountability and learning. It is the balance between the organization's need to learn from errors and the accountability of people committing them.
It is a fine line that is hard to draw, but in all cases it has to be transparent and consistent.

Of course, more aspects of Safety Management Systems were discussed. Clearly SMS is not only about a policy or a manual or processes, procedures and technology, it is about communicating the safety message to all the right people.

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