Safety Culture, safety climate and risk decision making in UK military naval aviation

  • Anthea Ashford

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The aims of the current thesis were, firstly, to explore and characterise the effects of safety culture and climate on decision making in the presence of risk within the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm (FAA). Secondly, from the perspective of organisational learning, the thesis aimed to provide insight into ways to enhance resilience to failure through exploring the scope for developing sector-specific, quantifiable leading indicators with the capacity to detect weaknesses in safety climate and identify priorities for improvement. Purposively adopting a sequential mixed method approach, four empirical studies were undertaken. The first study adopted a qualitative approach, aiming to explore structural and socio-technical influences on workplace safety culture. Use of focus groups to generate data that was thematically analysed led to identification of seven salient themes: policy & procedures, pressure, leadership & safety ownership, individual & collective responsibility, communication, training & experience and organisational commitment. The second empirical study compared three alternative methods for eliciting employee perspectives on priorities for intervention to enhance the safety culture/climate of their workplace(Q-Sort, direct ranking and the method of paired comparisons). No significant differences in the ranking of priorities were detected. The method of paired comparisons afforded greater insight into the relative weighting of culture/climate elements, however the additional value of the interval scale produced needs to be balanced against associated respondent frustration relative to Q-Sort and direct ranking methods. Human resources(staffing levels), priority of safety and competency& experience were identified as potential areas of concern amongst participants. Study3 aimed to elicit employee perspectives on safety climate in the FAA, using a self-complete survey. Exploratory factor analysis indicated the presence of six components. A confirmatory factor analysis in Study 4 refined this to five elements: management & organisational learning, normative behaviour, training & experience, reporting and process & bureaucracy. Study 4 further examined the scope for developing the climate components into a five-factor measure of FAA safety climate. The research added to the body of military aviation research in relation to safety culture and climate, as well as to the body of mixed methods research within the safety culture / climate domain. Findings highlighted a number of implications for the FAA which were translated into practical recommendations for enhancing safety climate with the potential to improve safety culture, including: removal of barriers to compliance with procedures; review of policy to consolidate in a central location and provide signposting; engaging users in development of procedures; examining the effects of a lack of human resource on safety and; enhancing coherence between formal and informal aspects of work.
Date of Award1 Apr 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorAndrew Weyman (Supervisor) & Elizabeth Hellier (Supervisor)

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