It’s important that employees report incidents or safety concerns for a number of reasons; primarily so that employers can:
- understand when something has gone wrong and can learn from that incident
- put in place measures to prevent it from happening again.
Employers want to avoid it happening to someone else, potentially with more severe consequences.
Please see the overview of the four types of safety report that can be made by employees in the aviation industry.
Some employees have a legal obligation under Occurrence Reporting legislation to report certain occurrences, only options 1 & 2 in the table meet these obligations.
Another key consideration is whether you trust your employer and if they have a “Just Culture”.
Everyone from front-line staff, line managers to senior management need to understand their “just culture” and internal reporting processes. Organisations should have clear reporting processes, organisation-wide communication and provide all staff with effective training. If staff feel reporting something that has resulted from their error or mistake is likely to lead to punishment, they are unlikely to speak up. Similarly, if they don’t receive feedback it’s easy to conclude the organisation isn’t interested in their report, so why bother reporting?
If trust is lost or reports aren’t acted upon staff may turn to reporting through the routes shown in lines 2, 3 or 4 in the table, avoiding direct contact with their employer and turning to outside agencies for help. However, as it can be seen in the table, even these alternatives all rely on some form of investigation by the employer in order to establish a root cause. That is why it is much better if staff report through the internal reporting system, allowing the employer the opportunity to investigate, therefore line 1 is the right choice, whilst the others are all alternatives because there is a problem somewhere, typically this might be a lack of trust in the organisations culture.
Reporting options and when to use them
The usual and most effective reporting process is to report through your company's internal reporting process.
This ensures the information is received promptly and any investigation and feedback can be achieved without delay. If you are required to submit occurrence reports in accordance with Occurrence Reporting legislation due to your profession (e.g. pilot, aircraft maintenance engineer, ATCO etc) submitting an internal report fulfils your obligation to do so.
If you are concerned that your report may not be treated appropriately by your employer or not passed to the CAA when you believe it should be, it is possible to submit Occurrence Reports directly to the CAA.
Reports received in this way are processed the same way as reports submitted via organisations but the CAA may be interested why the reporter felt it was necessary to provide the report directly. This may include trying to identify the problem with the culture in the organisation that has necessitated this behaviour.
Of course, there are some cases where there is no other option than to submit an Occurrence Report directly to the CAA; e.g. a General Aviation pilot may be involved in a reportable occurrence but there is no organisation involved because they're a private pilot.
If the culture in an organisation results in staff being afraid to submit internal reports for fear of retribution it is appropriate to report these issues to the CAA through the whistleblowing process.
Similarly, if staff have no confidence that internal reports are treated appropriately and want to highlight these failings, or any other deliberate wrongdoing, to the CAA we encourage them to contact us in confidence.
CHIRP is a charity funded by the CAA and the maritime industry with the aim of contributing to the enhancement of aviation safety in the UK and maritime safety worldwide, by providing a totally independent confidential (but not anonymous) reporting system.
If an employee working in the aviation sector feels unable to report their safety concerns to either their employer or the CAA they can contact CHIRP.
Organisations must ensure that their staff aren’t punished as a result of reporting safety hazards or occurrences and that staff believe this to be true. To deliver this, organisations need to overcome the behaviours that prevent occurrences being reported. Senior management needs to establish accessible tools to make it easier and ensure that employees receive adequate feedback to prove the value of the information they report.
Even more importantly, organisations need to ensure that the information is analysed and used effectively to identify potential hazards. Where required, appropriate corrective and preventive action must be taken to prevent accidents in the future. If this isn't achieved, limited benefit will be derived from the reporting process. Staff may even lose confidence in the system and stop reporting incidents altogether, or go directly to the CAA with their concerns.
Considerations for your organisation
You may have an internal reporting system but are safety reports from staff adequately dealt with? Please review the questions below:
- Can all staff easily submit reports, not just those with access to the computer system?
- Do staff get feedback in relation to their reports, even if action is not considered necessary?
- Are the reports put on a database to enable analysis?
- Do you have a Just Culture? Can you demonstrate that to the CAA when they audit you?
- Have staff been adequately educated in why submitting reports is good for the organisation and how to do it?
- Do you have a process to establish scales of culpability, for example if someone is found to have acted with gross neglect?