Implementing Just Culture: having a snitch or a hero at your work place?

2015-11-23

On November 15th, 2015 the Just Culture aviation requirements came into effect in EASA countries. According to eurcntrol.com, “Just Culture” is a culture in which front-line operators and others are not punished for actions, omissions or decisions taken by them which are commensurate with their experience and training, but where gross negligence, willful violations and destructive acts are not tolerated. Or in other words, in order to avoid aviation accidents or incidents, community is being encouraged to report on every noticed hazard in a “chain of aviation life”.

Now let’s be honest to ourselves: how many of you word “reported” means being snitched for the mistakes or hazard situations that simply could have gone unnoticed? Thought so. Ok, so let’s find out whether Just Culture really is raising a culture of snitches or… heroes?

Back to the beginning

To understand the core of Just Culture it is important to understand heritage of it. First of all Just Culture is only a part of Safety Management System used in aviation which is designed in order to control and ensure aviation safety. Well, talking about aviation safety it should be said, it has its own evolution of accidents. From the early 1900s until the late 1960, or the beginning of the aviation life, is called The technical era. During this time the majority of the accidents have been caused by the technical errors, which with the technological development has been gradually excluded. Once the aircraft became as much technically safe as possible, a new era raised – The human factors era, which lasted from the early 1970s until the mid-1990. During this time, the biggest focus has been put on the human errors of individuals, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that it has been realized, that people are operating in organizational structures which also influence the hazard situations, leading us to this day era – The organizational era.

Why report?

The simplest way to explain appearing errors inside of organization would be taking the example of dominos. You know, how a row of dominos are perfectly lined up, however all you need is to move one in order to make every one of them fall? So being in organization is very similar: any mistake may cause a chain of errors, which may result in very different consequences. Or in other words, sometimes all you need is to make a simple mistake cause a hazard situation, which will disturb the whole activity of organization. Which, let’s admit, is very risky while working with aviation safety.

However, will the reporting on people doing such mistakes make a change? Or maybe having a “snitch” inside your company will only disturb your internal environment and will bring additional fear certainly effecting your performance and not only in a good way?

It is all about changing the attitude

The idea of Just Culture, or Safety Management System within the company is designed to change the attitude that reporting is snitching. According to Ugne Maciejauskaite, who is working with SMS for a few years now, there is a tendency to think that reporting is a bad thing, meaning that you are betraying you colleagues. And this is the biggest challenge, to change such attitude, basically means changing the culture you are living in. First off all, Just Culture should be implemented not only on the papers of organization but firstly in the mindset of people and especially organizations’ top management. The very idea promotes people reporting anonymously (or not) about hazard situations within the organization. However, it is understandable, that sometimes the mistake, that you made, may not only be caused by one person, but rather the whole organization, which may operate under unclear or mistaken procedures for example.

“It was and it still is in some organizations, that in case of mistakes or causing hazard situation the focus is put on finding out whose fault it is, rather than trying to analyze why situation happened in the first place. Just Culture, and Safety Management System helps to evaluate risks and try to prevent such hazard situations. This way community is being encouraged to think and work as a system in order to prevent safety errors”, comments Ugne Maciejauskaite, Safety Management System consultant.

So next time, when you will notice a safety error whether at your training academy or airline you can choose whether to ignore it and hope that it won’t result in huge damage and maybe somebody will take care of it, or you can take the responsibility and maybe prevent the upcoming disaster. So what you choose to be – a snitch or a hero?

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