To build a strong safety culture, a drop zone must foster a risk-aware community. That’s why USPA encourages drop zones to host a Safety Day annually.
There are many factors DZs must manage to combat the ever-present dangers in the acts of both skydiving and operating a skydiving business.However, culture is the single most significant factor that marks the difference between DZs that repeatedly experience incidents involving injuries and those for which such occurrences are a rarity. A DZ culture defined by fear, suspicion and second-guessing will perpetuate an attitude of distrust and consequently a higher incident rate. Conversely, DZ cultures defined by inclusion, cooperation and commitment to safety will have lower incident rates.
There are many benefits of a robust risk-aware culture at a DZ:
- Improvement in equipment safety and education provided by staff
- Better oversight provided by sport jumpers in critical areas
- Increased DZ morale
- Improved instructor and student recruitment and retention
- A favorable image among the community, staff and customers
- Reduced incident rates that save on indirect expenses rooted in DZ incidents and injuries
If creating a robust risk-aware culture brings so many benefits, why doesn’t every DZ establish one? Paraphrasing from the National Safety Council’s “4 Barriers to an Effective Company Safety Culture,” 2019:
- General attitude. A lack of trust between staff or sport jumpers and the leadership creates a climate of fear. Inconsistent enforcement of safety-related protocols will make for an overall negative attitude. Other contributing factors can include a history of omitting staff or the local community in decision-making and jumpers concentrating on their colleagues’ imperfections.
- Roles and responsibilities. When staff or sport jumpers are uncertain of their responsibilities or their assigned roles, disorder and frustration often result. Local leadership must ensure these are established, communicated clearly and upheld. A lack of demonstrated commitment from leadership or shunning critical stakeholders from the decision-making process can result in a toxic culture.
- Training. When making changes to safety protocols, leadership must ensure it trains a core group of role models and allows enough time for the community to absorb the new ways of collaborating. Inadequate training, expecting everything to change overnight and assigning too much responsibility to individuals can all hamper training efforts and deflate efforts to create cultural change.
- Structure. DZ leadership must find the right amount of structure for a plan to succeed and a more risk-aware culture to grow. Regular communication of overall objectives and the day-to-day tactics required to meet them are essential. A shortage of structure will result in incorrect assumptions and ultimately a failure to reduce risk levels. At the same time, too much structure can stifle enthusiasm and create resentment.
Now that we know there are barriers to creating a robust risk-aware culture, what practical steps can a DZ take to get past them? Thanks to the development of more substantial requirements for minimum safety standards by USPA over the past half-century, Group Member DZs are responsible for ensuring a certain base level of safe conditions and standards. But simply following the Basic Safety Requirements will only affect short-term improvements. To promote long-term cultural change, DZ leadership must engage with the local jumpers personally.
Safety Day is an essential start to the season where leaders can play a significant role. These individuals should focus on leading a discussion rather than dictating policies. Community involvement is vital. Without active participation by all jumpers, a safety culture will not reach its full potential. When DZs have a captive audience due to weather, they should take a little time to get feedback from their community on the perceived state of their safety culture before canceling the day’s activities.
Finally, taking the time to reinforce safety standards as the season marches on will keep those standards at the forefront of a DZ’s culture, and even bolster an already risk-aware community’s devotion to safety. It’s important to recognize those individuals who are positive influences on those around them, and awarding the Ches Judy award every year is a good way to identify those people as role models. With a little help from USPA, and a team-wide effort locally, it’s possible to build up a strong safety culture and reduce incidents.
Recognize a Standout
Recognizing those who already uphold high standards is a great way to thank them and inspire others. If you’re a drop zone operator or S&TA, look around your drop zone and choose an appropriate recipient for the Chesley H. Judy Safety Award—a grassroots award that a DZ chooses to bestow on a local jumper who “through example, deed, training or innovation, has promoted safe skydiving in a substantive way.” This type of recognition can spark the flame that drives your DZ’s safety culture toward an injury-free year. February 15 is the deadline for submissions. Select a recipient for the award, and USPA will mail you a certificate suitable for presentation. Send the name of the recipient, the name of the drop zone and the preferred mailing address to email@example.com.
Don’t forget to register your event at uspa.org/safetyday. This list of participating drop zones helps jumpers find an event near them and informs them of the DZ’s alternate Safety Day date if it doesn’t fall on March 12. Submitting a listing also ensures that your DZ will be mentioned in the report on Safety Day in the May issue of Parachutist.
You can order newly redesigned T-shirts—this year in a medium blue with a two-color graphic—from Jumper Sportswear for just $6 each (add $2 for XXL) plus shipping. You can order as few or as many shirts as you would like. For orders of 12 or more shirts, drop zones can add their logos to the sleeves at $1.50 more per shirt. Many drop zones order the shirts in bulk as gifts for their local jumpers. Jumper Sportswear must receive your order no later than February 12 for events held on March 12 or at least three weeks in advance of your alternate event date. Contact Lynn Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (316) 264-1321 to place your order.
A list of all participating drop zones, photos of the Ches Judy Award recipients, a report on any new or innovative ideas and a selection of the day’s best snapshots will appear in the May issue of Parachutist. Drop zones must submit reports and photos by March 23 to be considered for print publication. Submissions should be made via the form found at uspa.org/safetyday.