Safety: What is a Safety Culture and How Do I Get One?

If you belong to a newly formed flying club or are part of a club that's been around for a while and are looking to up your safety game, there are some things you need to know.

Like it or not, safety does not occur in a bubble, in isolation. People do not succeed—or fail—alone, and this applies to aviation safety as sure as is does any other endeavor. It's a group effort to maintain a high level of safety when flying, and it starts with the club's safety culture.

We can broadly define a safety culture as a set of shared attitudes, goals, and practices of everyday existence toward increased safety in aviation. A safety culture has two broad components: a safety mindset, and the set of actions that align with that mindset.

Put another way, a group's safety culture is the way it thinks about safety. And since our actions are derived from how we think, every individual member's actions feed into that effort. So actions are how that mindset is implemented. Actions can either add to the culture, or detract from it.

All of that is well and good, but if you don't have what can be recognized as a safety culture for your club, how do you go about creating one?

We need to remember that a safety mindset is not new to us. We began thinking about, and acting with, safety as a primary component of our flying since our first few lessons behind the yoke. But to incorporate this safety mindset into a group, that mindset has to start at the top, with the club's leadership.

As part of a club, or tribe (which a flying club can be considered), we take our cues from three groups: leaders, the group as a whole, and our intimate circle. In other words, a clubs' leaders (the powerful) need to lead by example (both in action and how they think about safety), and instill that safety mindset into group. This can take the form of a dedicated safety meeting on a regular basis (monthly, for example) where nothing but safety items and education are addressed. Or, the bylaws (also a version of the powerful) can be written as to necessitate a certain portion of every meeting have a block of time carved out for safety items. By devoting time to aviation safety, you are telling the group that safety should be taken very seriously.

Since the attitudes and mindset of the group also matter, it's important to get everyone in the group involved. Empowering them to speak openly about safety issues allows them to feel like an integral part of the equation, which they are. Providing a safety reporting system and getting their feedback are two other ways of empowering members.

Along those lines, incentives work well. Reward club members for noticing safety issues without blaming. Another type of reward system can be created for those who complete aviation education courses on their own. The AOPA Air Safety Institute offers certificates of completion on many of their online courses and video products. For a list of topically related safety material, check out their Safety Spotlights. Safety education here is categorized, and this page offers a way to go deep in one particular topic at a time. Visit the page here.

Continuing education is an important facet of aviation especially when it come to becoming safer pilots. By encouraging members to always be learning, club leaders can demonstrate their commitment to safety. And when the leaders rise to a high level of safety awareness, the rest of the club will follow.

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