Human Factors: What do we train? Some ideas

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

The third element is ergonomics. Ergonomics is the applied science with the objective of adapting work or working conditions to enhance worker performance. This approach may bring changes to the workplace. Ergonomic audits will determine if changes in the workplace made an impact on improving efficiency and reducing errors. Issues related to ergonomics require monitoring. The important point is that the three elements are constantly interacting.

Training model

The next challenge is program development and training. A preferred training model is called the instructional system design (ISD) model. But you can use what works for your organization. The ISD model needs assessment and analysis, design phase, prototype, validation, adoption, implementation, trainee evaluation, program measurement, and feedback. Let's look at the issue of feedback. Feedback allows the end product to influence the training program in a constant cycle of evaluation and improvement. The value of feedback is that it be honest and actually influence the program content and implementation. Feedback is a two-way street between the trainers and the trainees. Effective feedback enhances the credibility of any training program.

It follows that a similar approach may be used for the development of an error management program starting with a needs assessment and analysis. The error management program must function in the work environment. Error management program design can be summed up in several questions. Who should oversee and administer the program? How should errors be investigated and results validated? How should error data be analyzed and tracked? How can intervention/prevention strategies be instituted to prevent recurring errors? How can we measure program results?

Ergonomics focus

A large part of human factors focus is ergonomics. Training needs to provide an overview of all the elements of the human factors program then follow on to ergonomics. It provides resources to identify ergonomically based interventions to solve human performance problems. A common approach in the workplace is to say that "human factors" deals directly with social and psychological aspects while "ergonomics" deals with the physical aspects. Human factors considerations are reaction time, sensation, perception, and motivation. Ergonomics deals with issues like posture, lifting, and repetitive motion. A good program focuses on the recognition that humans have physical characteristics that must be considered so they can work effectively. It points out a long list of benefits from applying ergonomics to the workplace. Again there is a needs assessment and analysis. The model can either fit the person to the job or fit the job to the person.

The goals of the ergonomic program could be to reduce errors, injuries, illness, and health problems. The ergonomics program can increase productivity and improve quality. Benefits detail ergonomic interventions based on finding and corrective actions from ergonomic audits.

Sometimes the term "human factors" is considered synonymous with "ergonomics," which has been defined as the science of "fitting the job to the person to enhance human efficiency and well-being." There are specific techniques to be used in fitting the job to the person. The first activity is a systems analysis in which the objective, or end product, of the system is clearly defined. The role of the human as one component within the system also is specified, to the extent feasible, at this point. Once the role of the human has been spelled out in general terms, a task analysis is conducted. The task analysis feeds back into system design in that hardware changes may be necessary at this point to begin to fit the job requirements to the human ergonomically. This same task analysis also becomes the basis for setting goals and the establishment of a human factors training program.

Human capability

The human as a system component has specific capabilities and weaknesses. Humans are incredibly flexible and constitute possibly the best general purpose device ever built. Humans can do almost anything reasonably well. However, the error rate in human performance can be high. An aviation maintenance professional when asked to perform some critical task over and over and do it exactly right every time generally does very well. However, he may have exceeded his capability in terms of reliable performance due to human factors/ergonomics influences over which he has no control. In human factors design terms, this means it is not recommended to design a system in which 100 percent reliability is required of the human operator.

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