CIRAS recently devised a 90-second online survey on safety and reporting culture.

We had well over a thousand participants in total, a big thank you to all those who completed the survey!

Over half (53 per cent) had more than 10 years’ experience in the transport industry.

The mixture of frontline staff and managers came from a variety of different transport sectors – passenger rail, freight, Network Rail, London Underground, supply chain and bus. Participants had a good understanding of their own responsibility for reporting safety concerns – what, when and how.

Participants were asked if they were clear on what safety issues could be reported, and if they were confident about reporting an unsafe act.

More than 80 per cent of all participants agreed on these two measures.

Different worlds

You might be forgiven for thinking managers and frontline staff come from different worlds. 80 per cent of the managers said they got good feedback when reporting a safety concern.

Just 33 per cent of those in frontline roles thought the same.

It is hard to believe their perceptions could vary so much (see Chart 1 below).

 Chart 1: Reporting feedback and being taken seriously by managers

When asked whether health and safety concerns were taken seriously, 88 per cent of the managers believed that was in fact the case, as opposed to just 41 per cent of frontline staff.

Managers and frontline staff may talk to each other, but whether the managers are really listening and responding to feedback is an entirely different matter.

Frontline staff experience the reality of reporting systems as end users so their feedback is critical.

If a trusting atmosphere prevails and managers and frontline staff can listen to each other, this feedback can be acted upon to ensure reporting systems can be improved.

CIRAS reports show that different interpretations between managers and frontline staff can result in unsafe practices.

             Photo by on Unsplash

Gaining trust

James Reason (1997) is a Professor of Psychology and a Human Factors expert. Reason highlighted how reporting and safety culture are closely linked. Reporting culture is one of the cornerstones of safety culture in his thinking – it helps organisations learn and become safer.

Trust between frontline staff and managers is critical for creating a strong, positive reporting culture, according to Reason.

These are the questions he says are on people’s minds when they are considering making a report:

• Will management act on the information?

• Is it worth the effort if no good is likely to come from it?

• Will I get my colleagues into trouble?

• Will I get into trouble?

There will always be a role for confidential reporting to capture health and safety issues that otherwise might not get reported.

We can never be 100 per cent certain an internal reporting system will capture everything of value.

If an organisation welcomes confidential reports where the need arises, staff are often reassured by the openness and maturity on display.

Greater trust is generated in the process.

Ultimately, the acceptance of confidential reporting can drive improvements in internal reporting.

If you know that your managers are really listening, you will be far more likely to report things to them in future.

Confidential reporting is there to complement internal reporting to guard against the loss of important information.


Reason, J. (1997). Managing the Risks or Organizational Accidents. Ashgate: Abingdon