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- The Swedish Armed Forces should have more exercises that are not pre-planned, and approach exercises that can provide actual learning, he says.

Martin Schüler och en krigsbild

In his thesis Safety climate in a military organization, in the subject of work-integrated learning, Martin Schüler focusses on safety and learning in the Swedish Armed Forces, with the purpose of developing a survey tool to investigate the safety climate and the relationship between safety and learning in military work.

- Much of my thesis is about military capability, and how the Swedish Armed Forces handle safety. Safety is seen as something that is separate from operations, and that is added on as an afterthought, instead of including it in planning from the beginning.

Research project based on experiences from the Swedish Armed Forces

Martin Schüler created his research project based on his experiences from the Swedish Armed Forces.

- There were some parts of exercises where I didn't really fully understand why we did what we did. Why do you expose staff to dangerous situations in peacetime, and why do you think that's okay? I also had colleagues in the Swedish Armed Forces who were good at safety work, who were pushed aside and whose skills were not valued; I wanted to find out why this was.

Measuring military capability and working preventively

Within the framework of working on the thesis, he has adapted a survey instrument for mapping the safety climate that suits the Swedish Armed Forces and the needs of military personnel. The tool can measure safety climates in several different areas of the military organization, and areas such as support from management, ethics, physical training, and vulnerability have been added to capture situations faced by military personnel. It can be used both to measure military capability, and to work preventively with safety issues. During the course of the work, several different areas have emerged as particularly interesting, such as support from management when it comes to safety issues.

- Many people in senior positions have learned to speak passionately about safety. People know that it is considered important, but that doesn’t show when work is planned, and the conditions for it to have an effect in the organization aren’t there. Many of the internal safety regulations are also not written for those who will perform the work, but for office staff. The rules are therefore perceived as complicated or impossible to follow, he says.

It also becomes apparent that there is quite a lot of knowledge of safety rules, but not so much knowledge of laws and regulations.

- For example, many lack knowledge of work environment and electrical safety legislation, and future officers receive insufficient or no training on these issues, despite the fact that they are going to lead operations, and be managers.

Safety and learning in connection with exercises

Safety work during exercises also emerged as an interesting area to explore further during work with the thesis.

- Many people I interviewed talked about the day-to-day and the mission, but exercises were perceived as something in-between.

It was, above all, the so-called two-sided exercises, when you battle an opponent, that interested Martin Schüler. He has followed a number of exercises as a researcher, to analyse the work and what happens when incidents occur.

- I have tried to distance myself from the operations in order to be able to examine them critically, both through shadowing and participatory observations. I have looked at how work in the field is done, and followed both planning and actual implementation.

One of the articles in the thesis is linked to learning during exercises, and shows how the drive to win affects the ability to work safely. 

- Safety rules are perceived as obstructive, and many people are prepared to violate safety regulations in order to gain advantages and achieve success. Performing during exercises is considered important, and since the results are central, it controls people’s behaviour.

People learn wrong

Martin Schüler also points out that the fact that the Swedish Armed Forces prioritise ‘doing’ over ‘thinking’ encourages competitiveness, and has a negative effect on the learning element in connection with exercises, which is not taken advantage of.

- People don't see exercises as a learning opportunity but more as a competition, but it's really an educational situation. The exercises should instead be designed for learning, with time for reflection, otherwise learning is lost.

He continues:

- If you take it to the extreme, you could say that it may even be that people learn to perform tasks incorrectly. If you do not reflect on learning, but continue to do things in the same way, you do not know what what you have done is worth, or even if it is correct.

A two-sided exercise is something that is prepared months in advance, but it becomes something of a paradox, as you cannot predict what will happen in a war.

- The Swedish Armed Forces should have more exercises that are not pre-planned, and approach exercises that could provide actual learning.

Martin Schüler points to some factors that are important when designing exercises so that they become more unprepared and lifelike, and that it would be beneficial to include in exercises so that they become more ‘unfair’. It is about things needing to happen outside the exercise area, that the units get ‘tips from the coach’ that suddenly change the scenario, that units get access to equipment that they shouldn’t really have, and that the exercise leader intervenes to create something unexpected.

Combining the role of officer and researcher

After defending his thesis, Martin Schüler hopes to be able to continue his work as a researcher with a focus on the activities of the Swedish Armed Forces.

- Right now, I don't really know what is going to happen. I am placed as a military teacher at the Swedish Defence University for the next two years, but would like to combine the role of officer and researcher in the future, he says.

He continues:

- I would like to be involved in developing a method that can improve and take advantage of the learning that takes place in exercise situations to strengthen the connection between theory and practice.


To the thesis: Safety climate in a military organization


Martin Schüler, doctoral student of work-integrated learning at University West,, 0709 72 85 29

Text: Josefin Svensson, Swedish Defence University/Anna Hallberg, University West