The role of human factors
By Jacqueline Booth-Bourdeau
Much has been said in the past few years about the role of the "human factor" in maintenance error. Statistically speaking this attention is warranted given that the percentage of incidents attributable to mechanical failures are declining, while incidents attributable to human performance are increasing. In the man versus machine interface, mankind is definitely becoming the more unreliable partner. Indeed, the increased confidence in the reliability of the machine, has placed the focus for improvements in safety squarely on the shoulders of the human element. With increased awareness and the abundance of literature available, neither companies nor regulators can afford to ignore the impact that human performance has upon aviation safety. If we bring technology into the equation, and mix in the increasing complexity of aircraft, the need for addressing human factors within aviation safety becomes vital.
Since 1989, when Canada had its own wake-up call with the crash of flight 1363 in Dryden, Ontario, we've tried to address the issue of the "human factor" head-on. Indeed, the subsequent Moshansky Commission of Inquiry into the Dryden accident resulted in numerous human factors recommendations, many of which are reflected in the new Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs).
In introducing the concept of human factors as an integral part of the safety regulations, we have been careful to avoid the "knee jerk" reaction that an incident such as Dryden can have on the regulatory regime. While avoiding the urge to be prescriptive, we have also attempted to integrate a pro-active approach to safety through built in countermeasures.
If we look at the twelve most common influences affecting human performance, which include: fatigue, stress, and a lack of knowledge; and then look at Subpart 573 of the CARs - Approved Maintenance Organizations, it is clear that we address many of these issues in a dynamic, yet flexible way.
Human factors countermeasures
To demonstrate this, let's take a closer look at the human factors countermeasures we've built in to the regulations as a buffer against a lack of knowledge. Lack of knowledge, a common and understandable problem, particularly with new employees and apprentices, also affects seasoned maintenance professionals, especially when new products and procedures are introduced into a company. CAR 573.06 makes provision for all of these circumstances by requiring that Approved Maintenance Organizations implement a training program that ensures all employees, who perform or supervise maintenance, receive training in the procedures applicable to that function. Standard 573 of the Airworthiness Manual details the type of training that must be given: initial, recurrent and update training.
To ensure that maintenance personnel have the necessary training to competently perform their duties, CAR 573.09 requires that an AMO establish a quality assurance program. The goal here is to make sure that personnel have sufficient knowledge to ensure the correct performance of critical maintenance tasks. Where weaknesses are identified, the CARs require that additional training be given.
While this is a good start, we realize that there is more work to be done. To this end, we are in the process of introducing the requirement for all personnel with technical responsibilities to have initial and recurrent human factors training. Of course, human factors training and awareness is not the end of the story; nor is government regulation. It is our firm belief that for any human factors program to be successful, there has to be a commitment at the management level.
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