Just culture campaign to further improve aviation safety

Workers in air traffic management (ATM) are responsible for keeping thousands of people safe every day. It is the air traffic controllers, pilots, engineers and safety managers – the front line – who ensure that air travel remains the safest form of transport. One way to improve safety is to analyse mistakes, learn lessons and adjust procedures and processes accordingly. It is vital that ATM workers can report mistakes or worrying events. Today’s near miss can become tomorrow’s accident if nothing is noticed and changed.

For organisations to receive as many reports as possible, they must foster a culture in which staff know they will be treated fairly. If front-line staff face excessive punishment or legal consequences when reporting mistakes or events that did not lead to an accident, then it is likely that many incidents will go unreported.

That is why the ETF is at the core of the movement for a Just Culture in ATM.

Just Culture is defined as a workplace “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, wilful violations and destructive acts are not tolerated.” A Just Culture encourages individual workers to speak up about issues that could point to safety concerns, so that everyone can learn for a safer future.

The ETF was one of the first voices calling for a Just Culture, and we have consistently pushed for a clear definition of how it can work in practice. For example, our efforts ensured that the EU’s Occurrence Reporting Regulation 376/2014 made clear that workers should not face prosecution because of anything they report, and that they should remain anonymous as the information is processed.

Since this regulation was passed, ETF has been at the forefront of efforts to make the legal change a real change in workplace culture. We worked with other ATM worker stakeholders to draft a Just Culture Declaration, publicly signed at the European Commission in December 2015 by a wide range of aviation organisations. We also produced guidance material which will help interpret the Regulation and the Declaration, so that our affiliate unions can to help implement Just Culture within their organisations.

Just culture has been an important focus area of the ATM sector for many years, and the ETF ATM Committee has played a key role in our work on the issue. However, Just Culture concerns all aviation sectors, and the ETF calls on the entire industry to respect Just Culture principles.