The Co-ordination Subsystem as part of the Aviation H&S-MS


This topic reviews Perezgonzalez’s (2005 1) H&S-MS, specifically, the co-ordination subsystem. In addition to providing a synopsis of Perezgonzalez’s work, including the definitions and roles of both co-ordination and co-operation, it attempts to offer a perspective on the role of co-ordination in the aviation H&S-MS, rather than for a generic industry.

Definitions: Co-ordination and Co-operation

Co-ordination has proven to be a difficult concept to accurately define, however one set of definitions offered by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2012a 2) is;

1. The act or action of co-ordinating, or
2. The harmonious functioning of parts for effective results.

Perezgonzalez (2005 1) reinforces that despite the difficulty in accurately defining co-ordination, as a sub-system, it plays a critical role in the overall Health & Safety Management System (H&S-MS). Specifically the co-ordination sub-system attempts to increase organisational conformity by co-ordinating individual behaviour according the overall health and safety plan.

In order achieve these co-ordination goals, managers must utilise an underlying structural component of the co-ordination sub-system, co-operation.

As with co-ordination, many definitions of the concept of co-operation have been offered up. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2012b 3) defines co-operation as;

1. The act of co-operating : common effort, or
2. Association of persons for common effort.


Of the scholarly interpretations available on co-operation in Health and Safety, Perezgonzalez (2005 1) identifies that Marvell & Schmitt perhaps provide the most useful definition for H&S managers as they provide a graduated scale for measuring co-operation. The benefit of this perspective is that it allows system control by adding or removing any of five individual components as the situation dictates. These components offered by Marvel & Schmitt are; goal directed behaviour, shared consequences, division of labour, mechanical co-ordination, and social co-ordination. Each of the components are cumulative, therefore each builds upon the other to raise the level of co-operation.

Given this perspective, Perezgonzalez (2005 1) recognises that a useful definition of co-operation (in terms of the aviation manager) does not exist. In order to provide a manageable framework, Perezgonzalez (2005 1) first develops the basic premise that co-operation is the acting together of two or more agents, with the levels of interaction representing different levels of co-operation, and which can be varied by intensity, nature and/or quality. Perezgonzalez (2005 1) then develops this further by recognising Marvell & Schmitt’s interpretation, then blends in two further levels; mutual adjustment and collaboration.

Perezgonzalez (2005 1) therefore provides us with the following six distinct levels of co-operation, each of which is usefully defined by Marvell & Schmitt’s five individual components.

Level of Co-Operation Category Marvell & Schmitt Categories Description
Lowest Collaboration Nil (only represents a basic interaction between people). A basic interaction between people. People interacting, but not in a manner which is co-operative. This means that there are either no discernible common goals, or they are very unstable in time.
Low Mutual Adjustment 1. Goal Directed Behaviour. A pseudo-co-operative stage. People co-ordinate with each other to achieve a common goal/purpose) but there are no discernible consequences for all members of the group.
Med - Basic/Disjunctive Co-Operation 1. Goal Directed Behaviour. 2. Shared Consequences. People co-ordinate to achieve a common goal/purpose through a disjunctive response (i.e. the correct response is only needed from one/some of the participants).
Med + Conjunctive Co-operation 1. Goal Directed Behaviour. 2. Shared Consequences. 3. Division of Labour. People co-ordinate to achieve a common goal/purpose. A successful outcome is dependent on all persons making the correct response.
High Co-ordinated Co-operation 1. Goal Directed Behaviour. 2. Shared Consequences. 3. Division of Labour. 4. Mechanical co-ordination. People co-ordinate to achieve a common goal/purpose. Cues to synchronise activities (clocks, intercoms etc) are required. As such the distribution of information and task planning becomes critical.
Highest Socially Co-ordinated Co-operation 1. Goal Directed Behaviour. 2. Shared Consequences. 3. Division of Labour. 4. Mechanical co-ordination. 5. Social Co-ordination. People co-ordinate to achieve a common goal/purpose. The cues required to co-ordinate activities are personal (supervision etc). Limited to small groups where people monitor each other. The person controlling the interaction may play an important role in improving social co-ordination.
Adapted from Perezgonzalez (2005 1)


As previously stated, Perezgonzalez (2005 1) highlights that the overall purpose of co-operation is to ensure individuals are co-ordinated. By achieving this, system variability is minimised, leading to greater achievement of H&S goals. Furthermore, additional benefits include; improved functioning of the management system, increased proactivity, individual ownership and, increased system efficiency. The dangers of a lack of co-operation include, but are not limited to; double standards, management system inefficiencies and, a reduction in overall H&S outcomes.

Implications for Aviation H&S-MS

Perezgonzalez (2005 1) highlights that the simplest reason for an agent behaving in a certain way is to further his/her self-interest. As such, there are two main drivers of conformity;

1. Independent self-interest. This entails unilateral compliance due to positive benefits, or evasion on punishment. The agent will only comply for as long as the benefit exists.
2. Interdependent self-interest. This refers to either collaboration or co-operation as it involves interaction with other agents and mutual/reciprocal agreements.

Given the safety sensitive nature of aviation and the remote workforce it generates (such long haul flight crews, remotely stationed engineering staff etc.), it is preferential to develop a culture of interdependent self-interest. This culture will assist in achieving H&S goals over the long term. Furthermore, the aviation H&S system should look to focus towards co-operation, rather than collaboration.

Under collaboration, Perezgonzalez (2005 1) identifies that the dominant strategy of agents is violation. Once one agent violates, it is likely others will follow—an untenable situation in aviation. Furthermore, from a managerial perspective, a culture of collaboration requires constant enforcement which can be resource intensive.

However, under a culture of co-operation, Perezgonzalez (2005 1) notes that the dominant strategy for all agents is compliance. As a result, system integrity is maintained even if a few agents violate. This culture reduces (or even eliminates) the need for enforcement, leading to a more efficient system, and greater achievement of H&S goals.

Given the nature of the aviation environment, socially co-ordinated co-operation is generally required. This can be clearly seen in environments such as flight decks, cabin crew, maintenance shifts, and Air Traffic control. In each of these environments, all five of Marvell & Schmitt’s components of co-operation are required. Additionally, all of these environments are particularly technical, leaving little margin for error before safety is compromised. Therefore if management are to achieve desired health & safety goals, while maintaining an efficient production system, they must focus on the continual development of each of the five co-operation components to ensure none are compromised.

Industry Applications

A sound example of this practice has been at Southwest Airlines, where management have developed high levels of co-ordination throughout the organisation. Their approach has been defined as relational co-ordination and has led to industry leading levels of efficiency and quality (Gittell, 2002 4).


Overall, the concept of co-ordination is an important one for the aviation manager. It is role as a throughput in the H&S-MS, despite being hard to define, is a critical one. As such, Perezgonzalez (2005 1) provides workable definitions and also a framework for practically managing co-ordination.

Co-ordination aims to reduce variations in conformity across the organisation, providing for a more efficient and effective achievement of H&S goals. High levels of co-ordination are achieved through successful co-operation between agents. Given the remote, technical and interdependent nature of many roles in aviation, the highest level of co-operation, socially co-ordinated co-operation, is often required. Successful achievement of this level requires management focus on all five of Marvell & Schmitt’s co-operation components. Failure to do so, may quickly lead to reduction in system efficiency and overall H&S performance.

1. Perezgonzalez, J.D. (2005). An Alternative Way of Managing Health & Safety (Knowledge Management Ed.). USA: Lulu Inc.
2. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. (2012a). Co-ordination. Retrieved October 15, 2012, from
3. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. (2012b). Co-operation. Retrieved October 15, 2012, from
4. Gittell, J. H. (2002). The Southwest Airlines Way. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Contributors to this page

Authors / Editors

Mike PearsonMike Pearson

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