Applied Solutions to Ensure Safe Human Performance

The term “human factors” has been around aviation for a long time. While early attention was on the flight deck, the airport services world has also paid close attention to human performance at work.


The combination of aircraft, ground equipment and a tough environment spells challenges for worker safety and for efficient work performance. Over the past few years FAA and industry partners have cooperated to design and deliver products that help with human factors issues for workers on the ground, to include maintenance and all other airport services personnel. The work is ongoing and examples are described herein.

What are the Airport Services Human Factors?
For the past three years, the Air Transport Association (ATA) Ramp and Maintenance Safety Committee — led by Gerry McGill, regional manager, ground safety at Continental Airlines — has worked with the FAA, manufacturers, universities, and airport services companies to address human factors challenges and solutions. Among other duties, McGill has been diligent to ensure that the committee’s Ph.D.s keep the talk as practical and applied as can be. That goal is shared by the FAA’s Office of the Chief Scientific and Technical Advisor for Human Factors in Aircraft Maintenance. While proven fundamental science and engineering principles are critical, the real trick is to make them useful at work. One such example is the Operator’s Manual for Human factors in Airport Operations.

When the workers can go home to their families each day without injury and aircraft can depart on time with no ground damage, it is likely that someone is paying attention to the key human factors. The human factors definitions can go on and on, but the ATA committee identified seven key actions important to airport services human factors. They are:

  • Follow the procedures
  • Take active steps to prevent worker injury;
  • go home healthy
  • Teach all workers about human factors
  • Be alert at work; fatigue is a threat to safe work
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate
  • Investigate events and learn from them
  • Measure performance, both positive and negative

These seven actions seem obvious and if followed, the ramp would be a safer place to work and money and time would be saved. In addition to the seven action chapters listed above, the concise manual also offers a final chapter describing how to sustain and cost-justify human factors programs.

The Operator’s Manual follows the format of a similar document published in 2006 for maintenance environments. In 2006 the FAA administrator awarded the maintenance version of the Operator’s Manual the FAA’s prestigious Plain Language Award. That award was attributed to the straight-forward language and concise length of the document.

The Airport Operations manual is only 29 pages, including photos and graphics.

Chapter 4 covers fatigue. Like the other chapters, the format addresses the following questions:

  • What is meant by alertness/fatigue?
  • Why is it important?
  • How do you set up a fatigue management program?
  • How do you know if it is working?
  • What are the key references?

An example of why fatigue is an issue is: “Longer commutes, extended shifts, double and triple shifts, shift swapping, and second jobs impose greater demands on
the workforce and reduce the amount of available time to sleep.” The committee’s members, doctors and industry personnel helped to ensure the answers were scientifically sound yet practical for application. Recognizing that all the answers are not available in 29 pages, the committee also included important references. The references are available with all appropriate Web links for easy access.

New Multimedia Tool
The FAA has released tools to help organizations tailor human factors presentations to match their specific requirements. The Human Factors Presentation System (HFPS) has nearly 170 Microsoft PowerPoint slides, 10 video snippets and 40 animations. The HFPS has a primary emphasis on maintenance, but is being used by trainers and presenters for everyone from flight crews, cabin crews, and a broad spectrum of ground-based workers.

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