Peter Tait, director of the UK's Confidential Human Factors Incident Reporting Programme(CHIRP) has some very pertinent advice for those contemplating the launch of a confidential reporting system. 'It must be confidential but not anonymous,' he asserts. 'Experience all over the world has shown that the value of anonymous reports is very limited, since the information supplied is usually inadequate.
'Another disadvantage is that they render the reporting agency vulnerable to specious reports.'
Tait, a former test pilot and British Aerospace vice president, heads an organisation which operates as a charitable trust from the Royal Air Force school of aviation medicine in Farnborough. CHIRP receives some 350 written reports from airline pilots and air traffic controllers every year, and most are published, verbatim but de-identified, in a quarterly newsletter.
These reports, and the 6,000 or so that come through the industry's mandatory reporting system, are also considered by an advisory committee made up of representatives from sectorial interests, including both employer and employee groups. In extreme cases Tait has the authority, and the credibility, to bang on boardroom doors and demand instant action - without prior reference to either the advisory committee or CHIRP's trustees. This is a very rare event, he says.
CHIRP's independence and confidentiality is formally supported by government departments. No personal details of those using the scheme are kept on file, and Tait has been given an assurance by the Civil Aviation Authority that it will not pursue those who report inadvertent breaches of the air transport regulations.
The user group must be assured of total confidentiality, Tait says, adding 'a known breach of confidentiality will seriously impair the ability of a reporting scheme to continue to operate.'