An active safety culture can be considered as the heart that is vital to the continuing success of an SMS - it gives the dynamic energy needed to ensure that the system will provide a continuous cycle of improvement as intended. This can only be developed by leadership, commitment and setting a good example.

Safety culture can be seen as:

What people at all levels in an organisation do and say when their commitment to safety is not being scrutinised.

Accountable managers and nominated postholders should take a leading role in developing an active safety culture within their organisation, so that SMS becomes an integral part of the management and work practices of the organization - the way we do things round here. Senior management commitment is crucial, and this needs to be demonstrated on a regular basis.

Dr James Reason has suggested that safety culture consists of five elements:

  • An informed culture
  • A reporting culture
  • A learning culture
  • A just culture
  • A flexible culture

In an informed culture, the organization collects and analyses relevant data, and actively disseminates safety information.

A reporting culture means cultivating an atmosphere where people have confidence to report safety concerns without fear of blame. Employees must know that confidentiality will be maintained and that the information they submit will be acted upon, otherwise they will decide that there is no benefit in their reporting.

A learning culture means that an organization is able to learn from its mistakes and make changes. It will also ensure that people understand the SMS processes at a personal level.

In a just culture, errors and unsafe acts will not be punished if the error was unintentional. However, those who act recklessly or take deliberate and unjustifiable risks will still be subject to disciplinary action.

A flexible culture is one where the organization and the people in it are capable of adapting effectively to changing demands.

Leadership is central to safety culture:

  • The highest standards you can expect from the people you lead or seek to influence are the lowest you exhibit yourself.
  • By ignoring low standards, you are approving them - you are communicating the message that low standards are acceptable.
  • Leadership is the communication of the actions and standards you expect by words, deeds and silence.

If everyone in the company is trained to do their job in a safe manner and proactively looking for hazards, you will then be approaching a new level of safety that is behaviour driven. All the elements of a safety culture must be actively encouraged and demonstrated by managers on a regular basis to encourage all staff to participate if this level is to be achieved.

A pretty good SMS with 100% buy-in is infinitely better than a perfect system with 0% commitment.

Aircraft contrail in a heart shape against a blue sky