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Measuring and Baselining Safety Culture: The Fundamentals

Safety culture is difficult to rate in terms of baselining where an organisation ought to be, particularly when it is based upon the perceptions of personnel from within the organisation. What’s more, some issues that have the potential to skew survey results include the dynamics of the company itself, privacy ethics, cost considerations, survey effectiveness and the methods used to develop the survey itself.

In terms of privacy, electronic surveys tend to be perceived as a one-way communication mechanism, lacking sufficient feedback for people as individuals. The limitation of some surveys is that they come across as impersonal and may create a sense of distance between individuals and enterprises if there is a lack of feedback (Budd, Gollan & Wilkinson, 2010). An important consideration for the effectiveness of a survey, particularly in the aviation environment, is the notion of keeping employees informed and reassured of the level of confidentiality and anonymity (Chan, 2013). With regard to the measurement of safety culture, it is difficult to establish, without first having a baseline to compare. Macey, Schneider, Barbera & Young (2009) suggest that pre-survey diagnostics be carried out to ensure that the enterprise goals align with the objectives of the survey. While there are many aspects to consider in the development of a survey, the fact remains that safety culture alone is subjective. Therefore, a key consideration is to ensure other methods are incorporated or at least considered, centric to the goals of the survey, in order to establish a true representation of the subsequent data and analytics. The main point being that, surveys should not be restricted to generically distributed email which is targeted toward the 25 percentile of the organisation when attempting to gauge where the organisation is at.

Surveys can be carried out using a variety of methods:

· Face-to-face in groups or one-on-one

· Targeted or segregated toward work groups, trades, specialisations, locations, demographics and context

· Anonymously by an external and/or third party

· Informally during workshops and focus groups

· Work / site observation techniques using behavioural markers, for example Non-Technical Skills.

For Non-Technical Skills (NTS) techniques, specialist knowledge, understanding and training is highly recommended to maximise effectiveness in ensuring a well-rounded analysis of behavioural markers (CAA, 2016). Overall, using a survey to baseline the culture of your organisation ought to take into consideration a variety of methods, in alignment with the organisational goals, now and into the future, to both baseline and measure the effectiveness of the organisational reform in which you’re looking to achieve. Further, in avoiding survey-fatigue, leaders should also be cognisant that organisational change takes time, and so survey intervals in best-practice should be carried out no sooner than 12-18 months, to minimise the risk of skewed data.


Budd, J. W., Gollan, P. J., & Wilkinson, A. (2010). New approaches to employee voice and participation in organizations. Human Relations, 63(3), 303-310. doi:10.1177/0018726709348938

Civil Aviation Authority [CAA]. (2016). Flight-crew human factors handbook. CAP 737. Intelligence, Strategy & Policy. West Sussex, England: Aviation House, Gatwick Airport.

Chan, S. C. (2013). Paternalistic leadership and employee voice: Does information sharing matter? Human Relations, 67(6), 667-693. doi:10.1177/0018726713503022

Macey, W. H., Schneider, B., Barbera, K. M., & Young, S. A. (2009). Chapter 4 - Phase 1 of creating and executing an engagement campaign – diagnostics and the engagement survey. In Employee engagement: Tools for analysis, practice, and competitive advantage. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

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