The safety dividend of aviation’s professional culture?

How much does an aviator’s own cultural identification with safety have a role in contributing to safety outcomes?

Characteristics of Professional Cultures

Certain professions have strong and distinctive professional cultures. Aviation is one of these.

Culture distinguishes one group from another and provides a lens through which a group’s members see and understand the world. There are certain professions that have especially strong and distinctive professional cultures. Aviation and medicine are two examples of these. In both cases, their cultures are characterised by the fact that their members have expertise in a specialist field for which access is both selective and usually highly competitive. The path to acquiring such expertise is often long and usually requires rigorous training during which the drop out rate is high.

Professional Commitment

Aviators from all parts of the world feel like they have a common bond

A professional culture is manifested in its members by a sense of community and a common identity. Once initiated into the professional culture aviators from all parts of the world feel a common bond. Members of strong professional cultures typically place great value on what they do. Research shows that aviators are characterised by this high regard for their job, reporting overwhelmingly that they enjoy their work a great deal. More than 75 per cent of all pilots responded to a survey that they ‘agreed strongly’ with the statement “I like my job”.

Safety as a foundation of our professional culture

Does a belief in a deep-rooted safety culture underpin how aviators identify as professionals?

Professional culture is shaped by history, the attributes of the pro­fessional tasks involved, and by the risks and responsibilities associated with these. In aviation, the evolution of a pioneering safety culture over decades of learning from accident and error has become one of these defining attributes. Similarly, management of risk and the responsibility for safety in the air are two of the keystones of an aviator’s professional identity.

Has a belief and pride in this safety culture grown to underpin how aviators identity as a group of professionals? And if so, how much does this powerful cultural identification with safety itself have a role in contributing to safety outcomes, fuelling a positive feedback loop?

[Adapted from: Helmreich, R.L., & Merritt, A.C. (1998). Culture at Work in Aviation and Medicine.]

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