Give Me The Right Instructions – Please!

Accurate technical documentation is a serious point of frustration and can lead to safety risks.


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.

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