Comparing safety intelligence in air traffic management and construction: A conceptual comparison

Although safety interventions targeted at managers or supervisors are believed to be the most effective leverage for change, the mechanisms involved in developing and propagating a positive safety culture are poorly understood. “Safety Intelligence” was first proposed by Kirwan in 2008 as a response to growing disillusionment with safety culture, focusing on recruiting and equipping leaders with the personal attributes, skills, and knowledge required to positively influence safety in their organizations. So far Safety Intelligence has only been studied within air traffic management, but opening up the construct and exploring its relevance to managing complex and hazardous construction projects offers new theoretical directions for occupational safety and health research in the sector. Existing studies of safety-related leadership competences in the US, UK, Australian, and Danish construction industries were reviewed in light of the Safety Intelligence model. These studies have explored specific competences including knowledge; communication; leadership style; emotional intelligence; and emotional expression. By comparing these competences with those of Safety Intelligent leaders within the ultra-safe, highly reliable environment of air traffic management, the differences between the leadership styles required to cope with the differing priorities of the two sectors were highlighted. Safety Intelligent supervisors promote a just culture, empowerment and collaboration with members, proactivity, and communication – aspects of leadership which are difficult to achieve, but have nonetheless been shown to contribute to safe construction. Safety intelligence therefore holds considerable promise for improving safety in construction projects.