Human Factors: What do we train? Some ideas

Human factors are a hot topic of conversations and presentations to industry groups.

I talk to a lot of people in the aviation industry and right now human factors are a hot topic of conversations and my presentations to industry groups. At the recent Third Annual International Aviation Maintenance Conference, held near Washington, D.C., on Feb. 9-12, 1997, human factors (HF) considerations were discussed in the Maintenance Human Factors workshop and Human Factors panel discussion. However, HF was prominent in every other session including repair station issues, global maintenance practices, standardization issues, surplus/new parts, recordkeeping, and safety data systems.

Those words were written by me and they appeared in the March/April 1997 issue of Ground Effects-Reporting Aviation Maintenance and Ground Error Reduction Efforts. I am still trying to understand what human factors means. With the recent renewed emphasis on HF as a proposed topic for the approved repair station training program, I have set out to reeducate myself. HF should be old hat for those of us who have been in the aviation maintenance business for a long time. What I am finding is that there are many now working in the industry who haven't been exposed to HF training. HF has been around a long time and there is a lot of training information.

In November 1993, I made a presentation at the 8th Meeting on Human Factors in Aviation Maintenance and Inspections. The theme was Trends and Advances in Aviation Maintenance Operations. My presentation was "Environmental Requirements of Maintenance Organizations." The topics discussed in that presentation are still relevant today. I will give a similar presentation to several IA renewal seminars this year.

Aviation maintenance/human factors programs are developed to effect changes. Initially a new program may have been started to reduce human error, decrease cumulative trauma, improve efficiency, or increase awareness. However, in the long run, the program will be successful if it is broad based, is dynamic, and has buy-in by everyone. The HF scope may change and even small changes may require training and some time to completely implement in a large organization. Regardless of the form and emphasis the human factors program takes, the end result should be constant improvement of the entire maintenance system and HF program longevity.

Where to start

A good reference for starting a program might be the FAA Human Factors Guide for Aviation Maintenance. It covers topics like workforce commitment and support, and corporate commitment and support. These topics are then refined with descriptions of the programs, purpose, benefits, and the specific support required. In addition the education elements are identified. The placement of the human factors program in different departments like maintenance, quality assurance/quality control, or other departments depends on the specific organizational culture of the departments. This guide also has a model that might facilitate new program implementation and the placement of an aviation maintenance human factors program in an existing organizational structure.

The challenge we all face is to establish a specification/standard that identifies aviation maintenance human factors program elements and explains the different ways they may interact. The first element is training. Initially the purpose may be awareness. A formal Maintenance Resource Management (MRM) course may be initiated and, as the program matures, very specific training may be needed to address areas of concern.

The second element is maintenance error management. The idea here is to determine how and why maintenance errors occur with the goal of preventing errors in the future. This will require an error reporting and review. The analysis of a specific error and any contributing factors need to be identified so that effective, prevention strategies can be initiated.

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