Give Me The Right Instructions – Please!

In the June/July issue of Ground Support Worldwide, we took a look at regulatory inconsistency, focusing on documentation and procedural issues and how steps taken on the industrial, governmental and individual levels could greatly assist in reducing these problems. This month, we’re looking at things from a different angle.

How many times have you started a project and been completely frustrated by the instructions? I think at some point everyone has used a technical manual or read instructions that did not have the right information. Sometimes the part numbers do not match. Sometimes the graphics, diagrams or pictures are impossible to follow. Sometimes the procedural steps are out of order. And sometimes they tell you to use the wrong tool.

We have all thought at some time or another that the people writing our instructions have lost touch with us, the end-users. We wonder if they ever did the job they are describing.

Content accuracy in technical documentation is a serious point of frustration and misunderstandings can lead to safety risks. In ground services, we must have the right data at the right time and in a usable format for the environment at hand. But if someone is unsure of the proper operation of a belt loader, for example, the procedural documentation must not only be handy, it must also make sense.

Today’s organizations are challenged and must strive to empower workers with the right resources, information and skills to address day-to-day issues. The technical information must be accurate.

Panel members prioritized two key strategies for improving content accuracy:

  • Reporting systems to recognize when the technical information is incorrect or confusing.
  • Properly integrating technical information from one document to another.

REPORTING SYSTEMS

Many companies have a non-punitive reporting process to promote worker-centered hazard identification. If you don’t have one, get one! Make it easy for a worker to report perceived problems, from small to large.

If you already have a reporting process, you must demonstrate that actions are addressed when they are reported. If people never know that their voices have been heard, they will likely stop reporting.

One success story involves a safety survey where workers pointed out worn wheels and bearings that made it difficult to move equipment. Management responded by immediately establishing a program to identify and replace worn rollers and wheels. That quick action/feedback loop fostered worker recommendations for other safety and productivity improvements.

Voluntary disclosure programs are increasingly popular with the push toward Safety Management Systems (SMS). An SMS affects every part of an aviation organization.

Example programs in the United States include the Federal Aviation Administration’s Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP), and the long-standing National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS). Airlines for America, in cooperation with the FAA, is launching the Maintenance and Ramp Line Operations Safety Assessment (MRLOSA) system.

These programs permit personnel to confidentially report errors, usually avoiding any FAA civil action. For example, ground service staff could use existing government-sponsored programs to report instances of deviation associated with technical publications.

The panel members further suggested the FAA help identify the level of detail and type of information needed in a report to communicate a documentation issue. The details should allow categorization of the reported issue.

For instance, if the issue resulted in an error, was it due to task conditions, training deficiency, accepted practices, and/or quality of the documentation (e.g., design, currency and availability)?

CONNECTING INFORMATION

Today, ground services are accomplished more rapidly and in faster-paced environments. The relevant technical data and the manuals seem to get larger and larger.

Accessing this data efficiently and accurately has become paramount for the ground services staff to perform its work. Let’s face the fact that personnel injury, equipment damage and lost bags are most likely caused by a failure to follow procedures. Good procedures and correct information are critical if we expect people to follow them.

Make it easy to get procedural information: Easy access to the procedures will ensure that all work is completed safely, efficiently and effectively. Procedures, when followed consistently, ensure that the right things happen every time.

Provide the right tools: Delivery tools should be developed to allow for the single point-of-use of all relevant data associated with a task. In today’s ramp environment, companies must address the emerging requirements for real-time, mobile and point-of-use access to data or instructions.

Provide the right solutions: Data from multiple sources need to be connected so users can go to a one-stop information shop. This will provide the opportunity to improve access, understanding and oversight of ground service operations for all involved.

TO DO LIST

Content accuracy is a recurring challenge in technical documentation and a hazard in every aspect of the aviation system. This is a problem that requires industry, government and individual action. What can you do?

Industrial Actions:

Manufacturers should take the lead to standardize documentation format:

  • Evaluate the utility of new technology and its delivery of procedural information.
  • Seek employee and customer guidance on this topic.
  • Obtain and demonstrate corporate commitment to this effort.
  • Consider developing a single portal where contents are similarly formatted and easily accessible.
  • Encourage voluntary reports about documentation in advance of an event.

Governmental Actions:

  • Coordinate with industry.
  • Collect the data and insist on a rapid transition from data collection to information reporting and application.
  • Encourage voluntary reporting and special emphasis on procedural and documentation-related challenges.
  • Create checklists to assess the quality of written procedures (applied R&D effort).

 

Individual Actions:

  • Give advice/suggest your ideas for improved access to procedural information.
  • Report all difficult company or manufacturer instructions to your management.
  • Use voluntary reporting systems to highlight the documentation challenges.
  • Take responsibility to help make procedures and documentation better.

The ways to address the hazards associated with content accuracy in procedures and technical documentation are clear. Join together, use non-punitive reporting systems, strive to get to the root of the problems and try new solutions.

The challenges of following procedures and providing accurate technical information are big. It is not a problem that will fix itself. Addressing the accuracy of technical information is an opportunity to ensure continuing safety and to improve the company’s bottom line.

Stay tuned for future articles that address the remaining top challenges and solutions in technical documentation.

Dr. Katrina Avers is a Research Scientist at the Federal Aviation Administration in the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute Human Factors Research Lab. Dr. Avers takes a practical, science-based approach and has worked to develop applied solutions that can be used across the industry.

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