• Published
  • AETC Director of Safety
When was the last time you saw highly motivated and satisfied Airmen kick back when times were grand and remark, "You know, things are great here; but to make things even better, we need more safety?" If your experiences are like mine, the answer to this question is never. Who can blame them? The Air Force safety culture, already the envy of industry, is easy to take for granted.

But it's dangerous to take this complacent attitude. Joni Mitchell, in her environmentally friendly song Big Yellow Taxi, laments that "you don't know what you've got till it's gone" just after paradise had been paved over with a parking lot. Why doesn't anyone get excited about the paradise before the parking lot, or a positive, mishap-free safety culture?

Researcher Frederick Herzberg might have the answer.

In his studies, Herzberg found that things associated with satisfaction are different than those pertaining to dissatisfaction. For example, recognition and increased responsibility, in the form of decorations and promotions, certainly fulfill high-level needs. However, Herzberg revealed that hygiene factors, such as a safe working environment, are conditions people simply expect. Also, he found that hygiene factors don't cause excitement or enthusiasm when present, but spawn dissatisfaction when absent.

Consider an experience when things were not so grand, such as when supervisors recklessly ran operations that made you uncomfortable. Armed with this mental perspective, you may recall comments like, "We're going to kill someone doing this."

When the safety culture is nourished, a gleeful silence exists. However, when the safety hygiene factor is neglected, people notice. Men and women are nervous as they operate in hazardous conditions. And, ultimately, lives are lost and equipment is wastefully destroyed. In workplaces turned dysfunctional and mishap-ridden, Airmen did not know what they had, in the form of a positive, mishap-free safety culture, until it was gone.

So work hard to nourish the culture of choice. If environmentalists like Joni Mitchell want a culture of paradise, they should proactively do what is necessary long before cement trucks are scheduled to arrive. If Airmen desire a positive, mishap-free environment, then nurturing a safety culture, versus reacting to a mishap, is key.

Research for this article comes from Herzberg, F. "One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?" Harvard Business Review (Jan-Feb 1968): 53-62.