The Benefits of Human Factors Training
By Jason Martin – Executive Jet Management
Editor’s note: The following is how one company was able to improve practices within its organization through a formal human factors training program. They feel that much of their success can be attributed to the application of lessons learned in the human factors workshops. A keyword search of "Human Factors Training" displayed nearly 800 web pages of books, videos, consultants, schools, and companies offering such training. Be sure to carefully evaluate any human factors training provider’s program before contracting for services.
For as long as there have been airplanes, there have been people who uphold their safe operation. Historically, the focus of aircraft maintenance has been on the machinery, on what it takes to keep an aircraft flying at peak performance. Good aircraft mechanics are more than the sum of the skills exhibited in the hangar. Human factors workshops have assisted aviation departments in analyzing and optimizing the physical and psychological traits we all possess, which define working relationships and job performance. The objective of the workshops is to examine the human role in the chain of events that cause an aviation occurrence, and to develop ways to prevent or lessen the seriousness of the occurrence. Students are aircraft mechanics, technicians, supervisors and management personnel; they attend first-year or recurring workshops based on their prior exposure to the human factors education.
In 1997, Executive Jet Management (EJM) invited Richard Komarniski and Grey Owl Aviation Consultants to begin human factors workshops at the company’s facility in Cincinnati, Ohio. EJM and its Senior Vice President, Richard Williams, realized that a human factors training program extends beyond the standard aircraft maintenance preparation, and was well worth the company’s participation.
"Both our new employees and our seasoned veterans have been very enthusiastic, and they say that it’s the most important training they receive," says Williams.
One hundred percent of EJM’s maintenance employees have attended the workshops and EJM has received the FAA Diamond Award for six straight years, thanks in part to this training.
Tracking as a team with training
While in the midst of a boom in charter business, EJM was also experiencing an influx of new maintenance employees.
"The training brought the different ideas and personalities on track to work together as a team," says Jim Bergman, a maintenance supervisor for EJM. "We were growing so rapidly, and the workshops reinforced everyone’s sense of worth. It reminded everyone of their role in the team and in EJM’s success."
Executive Jet conducts human factors workshops on an annual basis. First year students are taught the 12 causes of unintentional errors as well as the strategies that help them to avoid those errors. Recurrent training covers other areas of maintenance error reduction strategies.
Increased and improved communication
Communication, both written and verbal, is the cornerstone of human factors effectiveness in the workplace. Each person within the maintenance team may have all the necessary aircraft training, but if one person forgets to document a repair, the potential for negative outcomes increases substantially. And, after the students gain a better understanding of themselves, they can gain a more acute sense of the strengths and weaknesses in others, and the reward is improved communication.
"The workshops help us put safety nets in place so things don’t get overlooked," says Bergman.
Those safety nets are, in Bergman’s view, the greatest value of human factors workshops. The students discover how they are affected by distractions, their eating habits, their attention spans, mood swings, and how their bodies react at certain times of the day. The EJM Maintenance team has learned how norms, attitudes, and stress can affect their teamwork.
No two days are alike
Human factors training reminds students that everyone brings different experiences and personalities to the job. Similarly, no two days for a mechanic are alike, an attractive feature of working in the aircraft maintenance industry.
"Whether you’re old or new in the aviation field," says Bergman, "human factors training acts as an adhesive in bonding people’s working relationships with each other."
Students quickly identify the areas in which they can improve and the skills that can be enhanced for the benefit of the team. While recurring workshops reinforce the knowledge from the previous sessions, the information is never the same from year to year. Specific incidents at EJM are examined through the human elements, how problems were solved and what strategies might be used in similar situations.
A human factors program can establish a valuable relationship with management and maintenance departments, locating areas in need of improvement and gaining the confidence of all participants.
Kevin Lindsey is fleet maintenance coordinator and weekend supervisor at EJM and organizes the company’s human factors training schedule. He has seen how mechanics react to the program and how their job performance changes after they attend the workshops.
"People don’t realize all the issues that can interfere with their work," says Lindsey, "but, as soon as they get back to their job after the training, they understand how the human factors affect their judgement and ability to work with others. They can then apply the skills taught in the class to prevent problems."
The workshops have also helped EJM tackle the issue of negative norms. With a maintenance team as large as EJM’s, learning how to target bad habits in individuals before they spread throughout the team is essential for safe operations.
"We’ve learned how to dissect an incident, and we know what questions to ask when issues do arise," says Lindsey. "And, when you get down to it, human factors training is every bit as important as maintenance training, because it teaches you about yourself."
Seeing the benefits
EJM managers see the benefits of the human factors workshops through more efficient maintenance operations. As the company continues to expand with its move into a new facility this year, employees are prepared to face any environmental or procedural changes. Analyzing the benefits of the training, EJM reports an improvement in morale, teamwork and safer operations, and not just on a short-term basis; the workshops enable students to find a personal angle to the lessons, which promotes a heightened, ongoing awareness.
"Human factors training teaches you that it is not bad to go back to the books any time you need to," says Bergman, "and to not be afraid to stop when something doesn’t look or feel right."
No matter how sharp the axe is, it can always be sharper. This is what human factors training has taught EJM and many other aviation companies.
Executive Jet Aircraft Management
4556 Airport Road
Cincinnati, OH 45226
Grey Owl Aviation Consultants
Onanole, Manitoba ROJ 1NO Canada
FAA Human Factors Division, AAR-100
800 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20591