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I had never even heard of Middlesex University. My bad - there are so many universities here in the United Kingdom, it’s hard to know all of them. I visited Middlesex university in London to attend a lecture by Sidney Dekker, a noted expert on human error, just culture and safety. My visit there came about thanks to the Aviation Academy of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, one of the partners in the AviAssist Safety Promotion Centre (ASPC) – Rwanda.

It was inspiring to spend a day at the university among some of the 23.000 students and be immersed in their important research and inspiring curiosity. That research feeds the development of new products, processes and procedures to meet the needs of our industry. It is also one of the main aims of the ASPC – Rwanda: to connect research with the work of safety professionals and policy makers.

My visit to Middlesex made me think of my time as a student at the renowned International Institute of Air and Space Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands in the early 90s. I can remember vividly how finding your way in a new area of knowledge was quite a challenge, but also inspiring..
I see that now in the ground operation safety student challenge that the Foundation is running with its partners in the Air Transport and Aeronautics Education and Research Association (ATAERA). Fourteen student teams from seven ATAERA universities around the world are competing to come up with the best plan to improve safety during aircraft turn around at Kigali International Airport in Rwanda. The students have the chance to participate in 10 webinars that were given by leading experts from across the globe over the past three months and use that knowledge to help develop their plans. The webinar series also saw participation by the University of Tourism, Technology and Business Studies (UTB) in Rwanda, another ASPC-Rwanda partner.

The two top student teams from the competition will be selected during the April 25 Friends of AviAssist symposium in Amsterdam. Those two teams will carry out field research on ground operations safety at Kigali International airport in May of this year.

As part of their research for the competition, the students have to decide on their definition of safety. It is interesting to see what the various definitions the teams come up with. Many of them connect to what is called a negative abstraction: safety as the absence of accidents and incidents.

This more traditional view of safety promotes a bimodal view of work and activities. In this mode, acceptable and adverse outcomes are due to different modes of functioning. It is bi-modal in that only two modes are known: acceptable or adverse. When things go right it is because the system functions as it should and because people work-as-imagined. When things go wrong it is because something has malfunctioned or failed. Work-as-done differs from work-as-imagined. This view on safety is now more and more seen as traditional and referred to as Safety-1. These students aren’t wrong to define safety in this way, but I can’t help but to hope that their education will expose them to Sidney Dekker’s lectures. It’s an exciting way to think about safety.

Sidney Dekker's lecture at Middlesex University was all about Safety Differently or Safety 2.0.
Safety Differently is about relying on people’s expertise and insights in the way they actually do their work to improve safety and efficiency. It is about reducing the bureaucratization and compliance of work. It is about replicating successes. Safety science shows us that people create safety every day: they recognize, absorb and adapt to conditions outside of what a bureaucracy or system of compliance can know and predict. Their work-as-done is precisely the source of insight and innovative solutions that we need to tap into to understand how success is created, and it may well show us where the next accident might come from. Safety Differently is a story of hope; of rediscovering ways to trust and empower people, and of reinvigorating the humanity and dignity of actual work.

We’ll make sure we carry what we have harvested in London out to all the African professionals in our network – and that is close to 3,000 African professionals in some 42 African countries…..want to be one of those professionals? Get in touch and get connected to the best safety has to offer through AviAssist.
To get you started, visit our Facebook group for an inspiring movie produced by Sydney Dekker. The Safety Differently movie tells the stories of three organizations that had the courage to devolve, declutter, and decentralize their safety bureaucracy.

You can expect to read more about Safety Differently on our social media channels and in a future edition of this magazine. We’d love to hear from you on what works well in your organisation.

Best aviation regards, Tom

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