Discuss the Characteristics of a Safety Culture

Topics: National Transportation Safety Board, Air safety, Aviation accidents and incidents Pages: 7 (2267 words) Published: May 25, 2013
Discuss the characteristics of a safety culture.
Safety culture can be defined as the set of principles governing the health and safety of an organisation. It pertains to how an organization and its people uphold the importance and maintenance of an accident free environment (Glendon, Clarke, & Mckenna, 2006). The term was first introduced by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) upon the post-mortem analysis of the nuclear reactor accident at Chernobyl (Reason, 2011). Investigation into the disaster, and other disasters, had ascertained that the breaking down of safety systems resulted in the accident trajectory leading to the disaster. The systems placed may have either been inadequate, overlooked, or simply unimplemented. These break downs could be due to various attributes ranging from system errors, human negligence, or an emphasis on production over protection. In essence, a safety culture would not be determined as to what procedures or practices were implemented, but to how the organisational climate was when principles were set. Loosely translated, safety culture is an organisation’s proactive stance towards safety (Lee & Harrison, 2000). Prior to IAEA's introduction of a safety culture, the focus of safety issues fell mainly on human and technical errors (Gad & Collins 2002). After major disasters like the nuclear reactor accident at Chernobyl and gas leak incident at Bopal, it was highlighted that organisational policies and procedures did have a part to play. Within an organisational climate rests their safety culture, and Reason (2011) had expressed that five sub-cultures characterised it. They are informed culture, reporting culture, just culture, flexible culture, and learning culture. These points shall be discussed in detail to understand what each sub-culture encompassed. An informed culture refers to the understanding of hazards and risks in daily tasks involved. It is not sufficient to stop at storing a well of skills, rules, and knowledge within a job scope, but is also essential to understand the consequences should any defenses be breached. Continuous monitoring of operations to identity potential errors does not stop at an individual alone; an informed culture promotes the building of defense mechanisms from individuals who share their knowledge across the board. Thus, the possibilities of latent conditions can be circumvented. In hindsight, it would be noteworthy to mention that 80% of errors, active or latent, could be attributed to human mistakes rather then system malfunctions. Information would indeed be an important tool to assist cognitive decision-making. The National Transportation Safety Board (2007) had investigated a case of pilot error in the collision of a tour helicopter in Kalaheo, Hawaii, into mountainous terrain due to bad weather conditions. All four passengers and the pilot were killed. It was concluded that it even though the pilot had adequate training and qualifications in flying a Bell helicopter, his lack of knowledge on accessing local weather conditions led him to not to avoid an area of turbulence and reduced visibility. It was an active error that may have been prevented should he be informed that Hawaiian weather conditions could differ from one experience to another. He may not have taken the risk, especially when he was fatigued from a long flight schedule. Unfortunately, senior pilots and upper management were all absent that day, and no one was able to provide him with additional caution. The National Transportation Safety Board (2007) had since recommended tighter regulations towards commercial air tour operators, and compulsory training of newly hired pilots on local terrain and weather conditions. A full understanding of the hazards involved, in this case the unpredictable weather that appeared seemingly low risk, is essential in preventing future accidents. To generate an ample flow of information, a reporting culture is an...
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