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.
Chapter 3, "Human Factors Elements," stresses that 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. In the long run, the program will be successful if it is broad-based and dynamic. Regardless of the form and emphasis the human factors program takes, the end result should be an improvement of the entire system.
Chapter 3 also points out that 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.
In addition, this chapter also points out that the placement of the human factors program in different departments like maintenance, quality assurance, or other departments, depends on the specific organizational culture of the departments.
Chapter 4 identifies aviation maintenance human factors program elements and explains the different ways they may interact. The first element is training. 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 error reporting and review.
The third element is ergonomics — the applied science with the objective of adapting work or working conditions to enhance the performance of the worker. Ergonomic audits will determine if changes in the workplace made an impact on improving efficiency and reducing errors. Ergonomics are discussed in greater detail in Chapter 7, but the important point in summarizing Chapter 4 is that the three elements — training, error management, and ergonomics — are constantly interacting.
Chapters 5 and 6 expand on training and error management respectively. A key point from Chapter 5 is a preferred training model called the Instructional System Design (ISD) model, which helps to outline needs assessment and analysis, design phase, prototype, validation, adoption, implementation, trainee evaluation, program measurement, and feedback.
Chapter 7 involves a detailed discussion of 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 deal directly with social and psychological aspects, while ergonomics deal with the physical aspects.
Human factors considerations are reaction time, sensation, perception, and motivation, whereas ergonomics cover things like posture, lifting, and repetitive motion. This chapter focuses on the recognition that humans have physical characteristics that must be considered if a human is to work effectively. It points out a long list of benefits from applying ergonomics to the workplace, again, incorporating a needs assessment and analysis. The model can go either way — 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, while increasing productivity and improving quality. The chapter discussed in detail the ergonomic interventions based on findings and corrective actions from ergonomic audits.
This new specification is a "how to approach" to a human factors program. It is a condensation of many sources of information and a long list of selected references. I feel that it may be the starting point for organizations to bring people together to discuss plans for implementing an effective human factors program.