Guidance for human factors program development
By Fred Workley
Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar once said: What can be done about the fact that rivet inspection is boring, tedious, mind-bending work, susceptible to human error? How do we ensure that the means established to communicate with each other are, in fact, effective and that the right information is finding its way to the right people at the right time? How do we know whether training of inspectors and mechanics is all it needs to be? And how do we ensure that it will be?
All of these and other human factors issues are tough ones — difficult to attack because we are dealing with human beings who don't perform according to mathematical models. But, the FAA and the industry have to attack these human factors issues with the same vigor that the task forces have addressed to solve the other technological problems of aging aircraft.
For several years, many of us in the airline industry have been addressing issues related to human factors. I, along with many others, had the opportunity to serve on the committee that initiated one of the successful efforts through the Maintenance Human Factors Subcommittee of the Air Transport Association of America. The product of many hours of effort is a new Specification 113, which identifies the minimum guidelines to develop and maintain human factors programs. The overall mission of the task force was to "Develop guidelines for an organization reliability program to enhance safety."
The task force was asked to have the specification geared toward maintenance organizations, regardless of category. Also, the specification was to focus on developing and maintaining a maintenance human factors program within an aviation maintenance organization. The intent was that a program would include Maintenance Resource Management (MRM), an interactive process focused upon improving the opportunity for the maintenance technician to perform work more safely and effectively. Often MRM is used to refer to training of a formal nature that supports the objectives of your human factors programs.
The Specification 113, Maintenance Human Factors Program Specification has seven chapters and could be an outline for a human factors program in your organization, yet Specification 113 does not impose, in itself, any performance obligations on any airline or any other organization.
The key to its usefulness is how it adapts to your organization. You should be aware that if your organization is a contractor to an airline, then through your contract, you may be obligated to have certain elements of the specification in place. You should contact the airline for which your organization provides maintenance services, to find out what provisions of the specification are applicable.
Prior to the availability of Specification 113, there was no standard for working with human factors in the aviation maintenance industry. There are still no mandated training requirements for human factors programs, though I am aware that the Federal Aviation Administration does have plans to issue some advisory material on human factors training. The Specification has a list of selected references that includes The Human Factors Guide for Aviation Maintenance, An Outline of Ergonomics, Handbook of Human Factors, and the National Transportation Safety Board report on Aloha Airlines Flight 243.
Unfortunately, the analysis of some accidents has pointed to human factors. In other words, human error may have played a role in aviation accidents. Statistically, maintenance error is a minor factor in the cause of accidents; however, every attempt must be made to improve safety.