Safety Programs Are Needed for Maintenance Operations
By Michelle Garetson
There's a poster on the wall in the Aviation Safety program department at the University of Southern California that reads, "Accidents are caused by normal people doing normal things in an abnormal environment."
Michael Barr, Director of the Aviation Safety Program at USC, said that the focus of the program is to teach the decision makers, i.e. directors of maintenance, directors of quality control, of an organization or facility. Issues stressed are accident prevention, risk analysis, management cultures, forming safety committees, and human factors as to how and why incidents happen. These are not user-oriented safety practices, but conceptual plans to build upon. "We help set up the frame of the house,"explains Barr, "you put in the furniture. Each maintenance operation is different and will require a different setup. By giving managers the framework, they can take this plan back to their facility and their people, and form the type of program that will be best suited for their needs."
This year's theme at the International Aviation Maintenance Conference was "Safety in Maintenance Through Global Interface." Guest speakers from countries such as Great Britain, Canada, China, Russia and Japan, as well as from the United States, shared maintenance safety concerns and proposals in an effort to better the situation for all involved.
The focal points of the speeches were not necessarily on accidents, but more on preventative measures to reduce incidents in the workplace and in the air. Topics varied widely from the larger scenarios of Challenges of Global Business Aviation Maintenance, and The Role of Aviation Repair Stations in a Global Economy, to the more defined subjects of Maintenance Documentation, and Human Factors Training programs.
Several speakers presented on the human factors in maintenance issue, an issue which originated as a result of the 1988 Aloha Airlines disaster. Nearly a decade later, much has been proposed and implemented as a way to further reduce the chances for incidents occurring on the ground and in the air. While it has been reported that only about 15 percent of incidents are the result of maintenance errors, it is often the first item under scrutiny following an accident. It is tangible and quantifiable, unlike human error, which lends itself to speculation and is much harder for the carrier to respond to with respect to what actually caused the event.
Tony Ingham, of the Civil Aviation Authority Safety Regulation Group in the UK, spoke of the Joint Aviation Authorities' (JAA) efforts for developing and maintaining a human factors training program. At present, the JAA is working to form a practical and specific set of guidelines to help shape a standard approach to achieving maximum safety benefits for all personnel involved. Ingham cited the objective of human factors training is "... to influence the individual's behavior and attitudes to achieve improved maintenance management and team work. This can be obtained through awareness of the human performance limitations, the origin of human errors, and the effect of contribution of factors and through the building of personal skills to manage human factors issues."
As for the implementation of such a program, the main characteristics of maintenance human factors training involves technicians, supervisors, engineers — anyone affected directly or indirectly in aircraft maintenance. The curriculum would be presented in workshop format through the use of case studies and practice with feedback, in order to get participants involved in discussions in an effort to reinforce concepts. These non-technical skills, such as communication, decision making, assertiveness, team work, stress management, and conflict resolution, can be incorporated into the technical training and reinforced through recurrency training.
Probably the most memorable and moving presentation of the conference came from NTSB member, John Goglia. Prior to becoming a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, Goglia worked 30 years as a maintenance technician for USAir.
"Safety is the managed risk of mechanical misadventures," he said during his speech, Removing the Maintenance Link from the Accident Chain. Goglia spoke of his years with USAir, including what he called, "the black years — the 5 major incidents in 5 years," and voiced his concerns regarding the qualifications of present day technicians.
"I'm finding that more than a few technicians out there come from hotel management backgrounds," he told the crowded conference room. "How can that be?" Goglia went on to discuss the problem of diminishing expertise found in maintenance and the safety concerns that arise in that type of environment.
Information given in a briefing for airline senior management (Managing for Safety, May 1998) from the Flight Safety Foundation, suggested that "Safety is free." By implementing a successful safety program, the financial benefits resulting from an operation functioning at peak safety levels, will outweigh the program costs. An effective program will allow operators to avoid costs in the form of fewer incidents and accidents, while reaping the benefits of lower expenses for workers' compensation and aircraft-insurance premiums.
Just as a successful safety program can generate financial growth, poor safety performance can produce poor financial performance. Increased instances of incidents and accidents can considerably damage an operator's reputation, financial statements, and employee morale.
Richard Mileham, Airworthiness Safety Program Manager, FAA - FSDO, Great Lakes Region, works with the aviation industry to set up safety programs in an effort to reduce accidents through aviation education.
The Flight Standards District Offices (FSDO) provide outlines for safety programs that follow FAA regulations to help management and technicians gain technical proficiency through education. These programs are tailored to the specific needs of facility.
"We try for in-house training,"says Mileham, "by either sending a representative from the FSDO, safety counselor, or sending an expert in the specific area as required by facility. Some programs, such as carrier programs for example, are often incorporated with their own training classes." Different types of operators have different considerations and objectives. A CFR 91 may want training in Inspection programs, while a 145 operation may need information on JAA requirements.
According to Mileham, the initial "safety" program, which originated in the early part of this century, was the accident prevention program for pilots. The inaugural program was originally geared to general aviation, but now encompasses anything related to aviation. The safety programs known today have only been developed within this decade.
The concerns most facilities want to address today when developing a safety program are about the FARs and compliance with specific FARs, especially Part 66, FAR 11.
Technicians are mostly concerned with training on compliance with FARs and how they can stay within boundaries; the compliance parameters regarding maintenance records such as; how long they have to keep records and electronic versus written records, as well as participating in programs specific to their duties and responsibilities.
Mileham says that he needs to stay current in order to help those that come to the FSDOs for guidance. He receives recurrency training from associations like PAMA, NBAA, EAA-Oshkosh, — any type of seminar related to safety issues in the industry.
Praise and acknowledgment was given to associations such as PAMA, AOPA, NBAA, and the Air Transport Association for helping to set up safety programs.
The FAA and these organizations all work together to try and keep things current for the industry and are invaluable resources for maintenance operations willing to take preventative measures to ensure safety for themselves and their customers.
While operation requirements, maintenance requirements (records and tracking programs), and inspection programs are standard considerations for all groups; some of the FAA Airworthiness Safety Program considerations and training courses available that would be unique to specific operators and agencies are as follows:
CFR 91 Operators and Corporate Operators
Certification of Amateur Built Aircraft
Weight and Balance
Human Factors Avionics
Flight Data Recorders
Cockpit Voice Recorders
Reduced Vertical Separation
Required Navigation Performance
So, what can technicians do to increase safety levels for their operations?
Aside from contacting the local FSDOs for training programs on various requirements and procedures, technicians and other personnel should at all times, try to maintain a high level of attentiveness.
Complacency can lead to and can be traced to many unsafe practices in the workplace. It is really up to each individual to charge him or herself each day to not become complacent and accept lesser standards of quality and performance. It is very easy to develop a false sense of security when day in and day out, everything goes to plan. No incidents, no worries, right? Wrong!
It is important to remember that a lot of responsibility rides on the shoulders of each member in the maintenance organization. By keeping this point in mind, every employee should maintain a professional involvement with the aviation industry. This can be achieved by reading technical publications and participating in professional organizations. For example, did you know that ANSI (American National Standards Institute) approved new graphic standards for safety and facility signs in March of this year? Seemingly mundane things like proper signage and placement of those signs can be overlooked if one is not keeping up with compliance issues.
Safety programs are necessary for maintenance operations and the planning for those programs is important for their success. As mentioned before in this article, each maintenance facility is unique and requires programs tailored to their particular operation. By developing a solid framework, the "furniture" or various programs can be rearranged as needed to maintain a high standard of safety for the maintenance operations and their customers.