Abstract

The dichotomy between the insights offered by state-of-the-art human factors research and rst-hand experience of the actual practices of the Swiss Air Force presented the author, as an ‘insider’ in both these settings, with a unique research opportunity: to compare and contrast them to both help the Air Force to identify how the theories could improve their organisation and to contribute to the body of academic knowledge a better understanding of the inner-workings and real-world challenges of such an organisation. The specic research objective was to identify and understand institutional barriers which impede organisational learning. The ‘new view’ approach of human factors was contrasted with an emic perspective of the assumptions and behaviour in the Swiss Air Force gained through the qualitative analysis of approximately 45 interviews with Air Force personnel.

The results of this comparison revealed and demonstrated the nature of hindrances to system safety. The four barriers which impede organisational learning are (a) the absence of safety awareness on the part of senior management, (b) no common ground and missing guidelines in the organization, (c) no bottom-up ow of information, and (d) an accident investigation process which focuses on legal aspects.

This report provides a theoretical framework and practical considerations, which could be useful for future development (both in terms of structure and properties) of a safety management system and an independent ight safety investigation.