Human Factors: Programs Continue to Advance

The term “Human Factors” (HF) provokes a wide range of definitions and emotions in ramp safety circles. HF programs, simply stated, promote safe and efficient work with an eye on human performance. This article takes a quick look back at nearly 30...

Today’s safety cultures pay attention to HF, using all of the models mentioned above. Today’s safety cultures take HF to a higher level by applying the concepts of risk analysis. That means that everyone in the organization looks at their job and the process to assess risk. Everyone continuously conducts risk assessments. They must estimate the severity of the consequences of their actions weighed against the probability that their actions could lead to those consequences. For example, a worker must ask such questions as the following: What are the consequences if I damage a surface of the aircraft by scraping it with a tug, dock, or belt loader? Then, what is the probability that the consequence could happen? If the consequence is low and the probability of the consequence happening is low, then it is probably a low-risk situation. Safe organizations must educate each worker to understand the procedures for risk assessment. When a worker cannot assess the risk, they must have a way to get immediate assistance.

Today’s safety cultures rely on data and on open reporting of errors. Workers must be able to report when they have made an honest mistake. Such errors must become learning experiences that prevent the same error from happening to another worker. That means that the organization must have a written policy that is fair and “just” to all workers. A young ramp worker must have the same rights to report an error as those of a senior flight crew member.

Today, the international industry is focusing on Safety Management Systems (SMS). There will be an evolving importance on looking at the kind of data that not only tell why something went wrong, but also that can predict when something may go wrong — before there is damage, injury, or an accident. That means that SMS will address threats before they become errors. Voluntary reporting systems, that show very small threats, are a key to predicting and preventing the big events.

The Human Factors Side of Safety Management

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has recommended that all member states mandate Safety Management Systems. Governments and the industry are implementing SMS now. Airlines, MROs, and aviation authorities are scrambling to establish SMS departments and the SMS business is booming. As often happens, the focus is primarily on process and management of the new buzz words and acronyms. However, increasingly, users are seeing the SMS safety and financial payback.

While the SMS-building process accelerates, the human error in aviation continues. The percentage of accidents caused by human error remains around 80 percent. Whether the primary accident cause is controlled flight into terrain, loss of control, or some other factor, human performance is usually a significant contributing factor. SMS data, eventually, will return to that known conclusion. That rediscovery will reinvigorate industry-wide attention to HF.

The human factors community has been instrumental in promoting voluntary reporting and establishment of “just” cultures. Many of the voluntary reports submitted to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System, to Boeing’s MEDA, and the FAA’s Aviation Safety Action Program are fraught with the language and challenges of human performance. SMS will amplify that message and raise new attention to human factors across aviation working environments.

You should get involved with the SMS implementation in your organization. Continue with your daily emphasis on risk assessment. Train workers to understand risk assessment and integrate it into their on-the-job activities. Finally, stay tuned here for more information about applied human factors.


What is next in the series of Articles?

Fatigue Risk Management Systems (FRMS) are a required part of some Safety Management Systems. These systems are great for industry, because they permit an organization to show how they will manage the risk within their company, as opposed to following a one-size-fits-all duty time regulation. In the next installment of this series, Dr. Katrina Avers of the FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute will describe FRMS and show the applied products of FAA’s fatigue R&D.

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