Safety Culture - It’s All About Trust And Integrity

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Sitting here on the aircraft of a reputable airline at 40k feet, it suddenly struck me just how much we place our trust in other people to look after our safety.

I’m not a nervous passenger, but there were some rather interesting bangs and creaks from the bowels of the plane as we took off. And have you noticed that the Air France staff have a new badge – Sêcuritê– Safety in red emblazoned on their jackets.

Within the safety culture model we showed earlier, there is an element called a ‘just culture’ rather than a ‘blame culture’.

Just culture can be defined as ‘An atmosphere of trust in which people are encouraged to provide and manage essential [safety] related information; and where everyone is clear where the line must be drawn between acceptable and unacceptable behaviours’.

Trust. ‘A psychological stage to accept vulnerability based on positive expectations of the intentions or behaviours of another’.

Can I tell you about my week; it relates very much to just culture? My week has been pretty tense.

On Sunday, my mother who lives with us suffered a life threatening collapse at home requiring us to call the emergency services.

As a family, our implicit expectation of the responding paramedics was that they would physically keep Mum alive. And actually, it was even more than that. We had to place our trust in these paramedics, people we didn’t know, to come into our home to look after a very precious member of our family.

There are probably three key elements of interpersonal trust: we trust that an individual or group is competent; a person has good intentions and will look out for others; and we trust in their reliability – their principles equate to ours and they do what they say they will do.

Mum was taken into intensive care and we now trusted the hospital team to ensure her treatment was to at least the standard we expected because we are ‘conditioned’ and culturally encouraged to respect doctors’ decisions – the impersonal reliability factor.

Instinctively I relinquished my responsibilities for Mum’s care to doctors and nurses, auxiliaries and housekeepers.

In our working lives, every time we walk through the office or factory door, we trust that the organisation we work for has put things in place to enable us to do the best job we can every day.

We impersonally trust that the organisation’s values and behaviours are modelled by its leaders and internalised by every individual and team that serve to make safety the overriding priority.

We trust that decisions that are made throughout the leadership and management levels are made to firstly keep us all safe, and secondly to keep us all in productive work.

The people who lead the organisation trust us to do a good job, to consider our own and others’ safety before we do any job. This philosophy applies whether it’s fixing the photocopier to refuelling a nuclear reactor, from designing a flange to signing a contract, to report errors, etc.

We individually and collectively have an implicit emotional and physical arrangement with each other to consider and put safety first all the time.

Now, my concern about trust at work is that, since we have started to focus on reducing costs, down-sizing, restructuring and all those other necessary but often brutal things that go on in our commercial world, that perhaps ‘old fashioned’ elements of interpersonal and impersonal trust seems to have eroded somewhat.

I hear more and more people saying ‘well, you know what, I just do my job and go home’, ‘I know that my job’s on the line when they make cuts’. Where’s the pride? Where’s the intrinsic desire to do the best you can do? Where’s the trust and honesty?

There may be a perception within some parts of a business that trust has no real place at work any longer. Maybe a healthy scepticism should prevail recognising that the employer/employee relationship is "a marriage of convenience" at best.

But really, is it possible or even desirable to ‘just be there for the ride’ in an environment you devote the largest portion of your life to?

Trust is a fairly fundamental emotion. If there’s no trust, there’s no psychological contract between any two people or organisations. Without trust, there’s no way to get the best from people, no "extra mile" and no relationship development.

And Mum? Gratefully, our trust in the hospital and nursing teams was rewarded by marvellously responsive care resulting in Mum having a pacemaker fitted and she’s now recovering well at home. And me, I’m going to trust that Air France do what they say they’re going to do, and get me to Montreal, Canada, safely.



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