Aviation flight departments that utilize aviation safety management systems (SMS), such as Vector SMS, should have non-punitive reporting policies that address how unintentional errors will be handled. These policies are important because error reporting helps managers discover critical safety-related problems.
Is anonymous reporting the right solution?
Anonymous reporting can be beneficial in soliciting information from a reluctant or skeptical workforce, particularly one that’s operating in a less-than-positive safety culture, but it can also be detrimental because it limits the interaction between the reporter and the investigator. By eliminating this interaction, it becomes more difficult for an investigator to ask follow-up questions, which in turn, makes it more difficult to understand the root cause of the issue. And, if the investigator doesn’t understand the root cause—the human, organizational, environmental and/or technical factors—chances are the problem may reoccur.
Personal interaction between the reporter and the investigator also builds trust because it allows the reporter to see first-hand the investigator’s desire to fix a problem. It also gives the reporter an opportunity to be a part of the solution by sharing his/her knowledge and experience with the investigator.
Anonymity may have its place as an organization develops its safety culture—or as a tool for those organizations that have a poorly developed safety culture—but it should be discouraged for the aforementioned reasons.
One technique for determining whether an organization has a positive safety culture is to compare the number of anonymous reports to non-anonymous (“open”) reports. A higher number of anonymous reports usually indicate a lower level of trust within the organization.
Creating a culture of trust
In order to build an environment of trust, organizations need to avoid punishing people for making honest mistakes. That means replacing the “blame game” with “lessons learned.” After all, sometimes the best people can make the worst mistakes. The key is to establish clear communication, not only between the reporter and the investigator, but among all members of the organization. This allows the entire organization to learn and improve. As Henry Ford once said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
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