For about a year now, CIRAS has been asking reporters who call in with their health and safety concerns an additional set of questions about their perceptions of the safety and reporting culture they work in. Uniquely perhaps, they are free to respond to these questions totally honestly, without the fear of any repercussions. It is worth emphasising here that callers can always talk confidentially over the phone to CIRAS in a completely uncensored way. The responses gained in these interviews are anonymised and untraceable, providing insights into safety and reporting culture as seen through the eyes of employees who live and breathe the reality at the coalface.
This is all part of CIRAS’s proactive strategy to capitalise on a key selling point of the scheme in surfacing hidden intelligence. This strategy fits neatly with the radical and innovative ideas on safety culture presented by human factors expert Erik Hollnagel.
Hollnagel’s book, ‘Safety Culture-I and Safety Culture-II: The Past and Future of Safety Management’, describes his approach with an eye to overhauling traditional safety management thinking in favour of a fresh way of working. Safety-I and Safety-II basically represent different philosophies of safety culture. In Safety-I, safety management is reactive: the goal is to achieve the lowest possible number of events going wrong. Safety-II is more focused on being proactive: it looks at where and how things are going right and is far more accepting of the variability in human performance.
Confidential reporting is firmly aligned with the Safety-II philosophy. Confidential reports and the intelligence surfaced about safety and reporting culture at the time of interview play an important role in helping managers take a proactive stance towards emergent risks. If we want to shift a safety culture from a reactive to proactive mindset, we first need to ascertain how a given culture is perceived by the employees who actually experience it on a daily basis. This is where the new CIRAS data may be able to provide an important indicator of the health of the underlying culture.
The responses to the questions asked in CIRAS interviews presented overleaf make for an interesting read. They are based on a sample of 227 and include responses gained from a variety of transport bodies: Network Rail, London Underground, suppliers/contractors and TfL bus operators.
There may be a concern that these results could be distorted because they are solely from employees who already feel their safety concerns remain unaddressed. However, it is likely that a similar pattern of findings would emerge from a sample population of employees who have not previously reported to CIRAS. The differences between the responses given by reporters to CIRAS and the workforce in general tend to be overstated. At any rate, this is a view that can be tested in reality by surveying non-CIRAS reporting employees – we plan to do this in due course. We may in fact find that the data presented here, even with its imperfections, is actually more representative than might initially be assumed. To use an appropriate metaphor, if we slice a tree trunk open, the pattern of rings normally runs unimpeded right through the trunk.