The commitment required to achieve a Just Culture

The Dominican Republic’s aviation authority is locked in a dispute with their air traffic controllers. Letters were traded between IDAC and IFATCA. I blogged about the power of synergy from IFATCA’s involvement, now Eddian Mendez weighs in with a piece on “Just Culture”.

The Dominican Republic’s aviation authority (IDAC) is locked in a dispute with their air traffic controllers. A letter was dispatched to IDAC from IFATCA last week in support of the controllers. Obviously, this necessitated a response from IDAC which came two days later. I published the letter from IFATCA on this blog with a clear attempt to highlight the point of SYNERGY.

The letter republished below originated for Eddian Mendez, a member of the management team at IDAC. He has greater insight into the dispute and attempts to cover yet another angle – Just Culture.

A just culture has been defined as a culture in which front line operators and others are not punished for actions, omissions or decisions taken by them that are commensurate with their experience and training, but where gross negligence, wilful violations and destructive acts are not tolerated.

I am a proud proponent of a just culture and am happy to share Eddian’s words.

The commitment required to achieve a Just Culture

In aviation, we often refer to the Just Culture concept. According to IFATCA, a Just Culture in Accident and Incident Investigation is “a culture in which front line operators or others are not punished for actions, omissions or decisions taken by them that are commensurate with their experience and training, but where gross negligence, willful violations and destructive acts are not tolerated.”

Just Culture refers to a work environment in which the exchange of information to eliminate, actual or potential, deficiencies is promoted. Erroneously, one might think that punishing a front line operator who makes a mistake will prevent its recurrence; however, since most failures are systemic, that person who can “make the mistake” is the best ally to implement controls to prevent the recurrence of the unwanted event, and knowing that he or she would be punished if reports the situation, could choose to remain silent to avoid punishment, consequently the true process of continuous improvement would be dead before started. Therefore, the goal of a Just Culture is to provide a fair balance between accountability and safety improvements expected for system as dynamic as ours. The basis of Just Culture is mutual trust between all stakeholders, recognizing that the violation of this trust affects the exchange of critical safety information and lessons learned.

I’m bitterly surprised to see Dominican colleagues in social networks to consider “healthy” airing recordings, information and data regarding the operations of air traffic control, that they obtain on duty, and that to prevent this from happening is simply a violation to freedom of speech.

First I would like to point out that this is not the first time this has happened in the Dominican Republic. In June 2010, the same people of this occasion took an internal information report of ATS events prepared by the Quality Management Section of IDAC and leaked it to the media, sponsored by who at the time was the President of the National Pilots Association, to demonstrate, in their opinion “the inexperience of Dominican Republic air traffic control staff.”

We might think that after public debate everything returned to normal, however, that information report contained valuable information for safety, detailing real ATC situations and raising awareness to ALL ATCOs on viable alternatives for solving real traffic situations that might arise. Logically, as a result of this public process, that report was not made public anymore, with the negative consequence of not being able to share information that would prevent ATCOs to find themselves in the same situations that another colleague already experienced.

When working towards a Just Culture is always helpful to put ourselves in the situation of others or see things from another point of view, and analyze what would be our reaction if at one point what we considered “fair” was done by any other stakeholder. Therefore, it would wise to analyze what would be the reaction of those ATCOs who believe their right to disseminate recordings of air traffic control operations that they can collect while on duty, if the same thing was done by their employer. For this analysis we have to take into consideration that the employer maintains recordings of all air-ground radio frequencies, voice circuits for internal and external coordination, telephone lines etc., but also personal records, schedules, sick leaves, performance evaluations, medical and psychological evaluations, etc. , etc., etc. . With all the information that could be obtained from these sources, the employer could build a strong case to the public, cutting and pasting situations that might reflect whatever they want. But what would be the impact on the aviation system if the ANSP would do that?, what if rather than controlling this behavior would try to do the same?

Let’s not forget, that with rights there come duties and responsibilities, as well.

I prepared this email because I would like my colleagues from abroad to be informed of the situation in the Dominican Republic.

I’m an air traffic controller since 1996, and I’ve been in struggles with our employer, the government, for improvement of working conditions, therefore, now I can’t be against that; however, I can’t stand in the side that has decided that in order to control the system it’s OK to destroy it just a little bit, just this one time until I’m in control and I will fix everything back to normal.

In real life, the repercussions of our actions sometimes go far beyond what we expect, and I have no doubt in my mind that this is the case right now.

About Wayne Farley

I am Wayne, a career air traffic controller with over 30 years of industry experience. Engage me while I share my thoughts, experience, and news from around the aviation world. A post titled “13 Characteristics of an Air Traffic Controller” written in 2010 went viral and established me as the unofficial ambassador of ATC.

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