Safety “culture” first

Dr. Barry Kirwan

Dr. Barry Kirwan

Safety Expert

Safety culture – speaking up for safety, and doing the right (safe) thing all the time – when no one is looking.

Dr. Barry Kirwan, Safety Expert at EUROCONTROL, explains how safety culture was born.

“I recall the day when Jean-Marc Garot walked into my office and said, ‘Is there anything we can do?’  It was July 2nd 2002, the morning after the mid-air collision over Uberlingen that cost 71 people their lives, and later the controller who’d been in charge, too. In the months that followed it became clear that this wasn’t about a single controller making a tragic error, but was more to do with the culture of safety in the organisation at the time. And so, at the EUROCONTROL Experimental Centre, we set about developing a safety culture methodology for all air traffic organisations.

After two years of research and tailoring the approach to Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs), several CEOs at the annual CEO safety conference told other CEOs that ‘if you want to know your real risks, you need to do this.’ The next day our order book for surveys was full for the next four years.

In 2012 we went a step further and carried out our own internal safety culture survey, and had a healthy response and raised issues to improve our own approaches to safety, retaining the conviction that EUROCONTROL is the organisation for the safety of air navigation. As one CEO put it, ‘aviation is a business, but without safety, there is no business.’ The programme is now running with over thirty ANSPs, including new participants such as Iceland. Recently the FAA* came to see how we do the surveys. The EEC is still doing research in this area. Via the Horizon 2020-funded Future Sky Safety programme, we’re now expanding the approach to airlines and airports. EASA** have also sought our advice on whether or not to regulate safety culture, as part of an ICAO***-led initiative.

Safety culture for ANSPs started at the EEC, and although the ANSP survey programme is now under the auspices of the Network Management Directorate of EUROCONTROL, the new research is continuing here in Brétigny. I’m always happy when people stop me at coffee or drop by my office to ask about safety, because it shows that the EEC has its own positive safety culture, and reminds me that the EEC is the right place to carry out this important line of research.”

* FAA: Federal Aviation Administration (USA)

** EASA: European Aviation Safety Agency

*** ICAO: The International Civil Aviation Organization