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From the Desk of the Safety Office


Michael May, Standards Officer WVFC


What is a Safety Culture?

The term “Safety Culture” is used a lot in today’s world. Virtually every worker in America whose job description involves a safety sensitive function has heard this term, and there is probably no industry that uses it more than aviation. But what does it really mean and how is it created? If a major airline wanted to create a safety culture would they go about it the same way a flying club would?

A safety culture is the way safety is perceived, valued, and prioritized in an organization, according to one definition. It cannot be bought; it must be created through an organization’s combined efforts in every area of operation to put safety first. In other words, it can be described as how an organization acts when nobody is watching.

In any organization, creating a safety culture is driven from the top. CEO’s, managers, and training departments must empower and encourage their employees to promote safety in every decision they make. WVFC is no exception and our culture begins with our elected Board of Directors and General Manager. The Safety Office is tasked with maintaining our flight standards and addressing safety concerns, but in order to do this effectively we must have the proper resources and tools to do so. Checkout minimums, ground review forms, and phase checks are all used to maintain standards. WVFC has 15 employees and over 35 CFI’s that all work together to address various safety concerns when they arise, and members can use our flight feedback form to bring safety concerns to our attention.

Having a culture of safety requires more than this however. In any organization, there is a natural conflict that exists between safety and other interests. WVFC is no exception, and in order to create a positive safety culture there must be established guidelines and boundaries that protect safety-sensitive decisions. There must also be a level of trust that others will not view making a safety decision negatively within the organization. An example of this is when a member does a preflight and finds a grounding item.  They will not expect or perceive any negative response to squawking the item and grounding the airplane.

Creating this environment is much easier said than done, and it requires everyone involved making a commitment to put safety first. One interesting element to WVFC is that our members are our biggest assets when it comes to promoting a safety culture. Decisions that you make every time you fly either contribute to, or detract from, our culture of safety. Things like squawking items that should be squawked, reporting safety concerns, and making safe decisions about your flights all contribute to the overall safety culture here. If the Safety Office, CFI’s, and staff have done our jobs properly, you should not feel any pressure to make a bad safety decision because of us. Need to buy $7/gallon fuel to have enough to return home with a comfortable reserve? You should not be wondering if you will “get into trouble” for that. Find a grounding squawk after your flight even though there are three more flights that day? You should not feel any pressure from us to ignore it. Hopefully you will know that we will fully support you, and expect you to make the proper decision in these scenarios.

Creating this environment where you, the members, are unhindered from making safety decisions is what we are striving to maintain. If we have done this successfully it is then up to each member to choose to make safety their top priority. This is what I consider having a positive safety culture, and its success is demonstrated every time a member makes the safe choice, even when nobody is watching.