The Effect of Human Factors in East Asia

Feb. 14, 2019
An employee’s awareness of possible consequences should lead them to think and act in a safer way.

Human factor issues on the ramp are one of the main aspects affecting aircraft ground handling safety. Human error, and more broadly the limited consideration to human factors, can lead to risky situations in the ramp environment. In East Asia there are some main human factor issues on the ramp that are specific to the region and need specific targeting in human factors management initiatives at ground handling companies.

In relation to human factor issues, perception and image are very important. East Asian countries are no different in terms of human needs. However, what is different in East Asian countries is the variety of cultural pressures integrated in the society.

“And though they may differ country-by-country, status, seniority and respect take on a different perspective in Asia, as people behave in ways to avoid outcomes that may lead to loss-of-face for the person who is higher in status and shows a bit of grey hair,” says Brenda Aremo-Anichini, managing director of ground handling consultancy Twiga Aero. “That person is therefore shown a form of respect, which, in aviation terms, avoids sharing the full picture and leads to decisions that do not address the underlying problems and protects the individual who may have made a poor decision, masking the problem altogether.”

The Role of Training

Training plays an important part in human factors awareness. Employees' awareness of the possible consequences of their actions, should lead them to think and act in a safer way. In aircraft ground handling operations, human factors training is a requirement.

Aremo-Anichini, however, points out that “it often appears that, when provided, human factors training is a tick-in-the-box item, which may be adapted to consider the local culture. Its efficacy is therefore diluted. In the past years we have taken a different approach involving front-line staff to provide their direct, unfiltered inputs by creating an environment in which individuals can safely express themselves anonymously. This seems to deliver good results, especially in controlling safety-related problems.”

There are some main aspects to emphasize in ground handling human factors training in East Asian countries. Indeed, ground handling human factor training syllabi in East Asian countries may need to differ from those in Western countries.

“There may be a problem as programs may not be adapted to the local environment. When making standards and designing training programs, we tend to try and fit everyone into the same mould,” says Aremo-Anichini. “Where this checks the box, it does little to address the real needs of an organization in terms of staff understanding requirements and ensuring conformance to suitable standard that meets the requirements of the local/regional work force.

“East Asians are hard workers and industrious. As much as this is a testament of the high economic growth rates in East Asia, it can also mean people overwork and are tired,” she continues. “Fatigue is a big problem as people work hard and put their bodies to test during long hours of work and non-work related activities, leaving little time for good quality rest. Having multiple jobs is also not uncommon as people ‘make ends meet.’ And there appears to be an inherent sense of rush, among ground operations staff. Management talks about safety, security and quality outputs and all the while they check their watch for on time performance (OTP). This puts staff in a difficult situation and under pressure. A pressure they feel constantly and which they cannot shake loose as they strive to perform their duties in accordance with management instructions.”

At Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) training involves the community in order to increase efficiency.

“We work hand in hand with the airport community to enhance work efficiency. While individual ramp handling operators (RHO) have their own operation and training, which have to comply with our requirements, we also strive to maintain the high quality of ramp environment as a whole and enhance working conditions as well as daily operations via the use of automation, enhancement in staff welfare and inculcation of the safety-first culture,” say officials of Airport Authority Hong Kong.

Safety Leadership

At the strategic level, safety leadership is a critical element to drive and shape the outcomes of the safety initiatives and improvements.

“Driven from the top, it is required to improve safety accountability and the sense of responsibility. The modus operandi is very often linked to punishment and sanctions for an individual not doing things ‘right.’ This being said, little room is left for honest mistakes. East Asia is a very large region with a variety of cultural backgrounds, hence it is difficult to generalize,” says Aremo-Anichini. “This said, organizational cultures may tend to only consider just culture on paper. This important point is key to opening up a new paradigm that will foster an environment where people do not fear retribution or the loss of their job if something goes wrong due to an honest mistake that anyone can make. It appears that making mistakes is a ‘shameful thing’ rather than this being viewed as an opportunity to learn from past mistakes.

“Reporting near-miss events, incidents and accidents is perceived as having failed. Where an accident is obvious, a near-miss event can easily be excluded from reporting. This is the point where opportunities to improve slip through the organizations’ capability to improve. Staff fear losing their job, retribution and reprimand for wrong doing. This results in a low level of accident reporting,” continues Aremo-Anichini.

“The real nuggets lie in the near-miss events, which provide an opportunity to dig deep, conducting root cause analysis to identify the key elements that require change and what the change would look like once implemented. Through direct efforts, we have been successful at implementing programs to drive a high level of reporting, conformance to operational standards and fostering a culture of ongoing change. Such efforts have resulted in a significant decrease in incidents and accidents, while improving the reporting and driving a strong sense of safety culture among staff.”

Broader Scope

At Hong Kong International Airport, which is one of the busiest international airports, human factor considerations are contextualized within process automation and transformation initiatives to offer visible impacts in tackling manpower and equipment shortage in daily operations.

“We introduced the powered baggage loading device with integrated RFID system, i.e., STACK@EASE, to assist departure baggage loading to alleviate RHOs’ labor demand, to increase work safety and productivity,” say officials at Airport Authority Hong Kong. “We have implemented a pioneer resources-sharing solution – the ground service equipment (GSE) pooling scheme. Since July 2018, RHOs have been provided with critical GSE on stand for aircraft turnaround handling when they operate at the HKIA midfield apron, 95 percent of which are of the zero-emission electric models. The scheme alleviates staff’s stress amid equipment search, reduces vehicular traffic on apron and fosters a cleaner and safer working environment.”

Airport Authority Hong Kong has been enhancing working condition on the apron in consideration of the generally humid and hot weather in Hong Kong.

“In 2018, in addition to adding two resting lounges in the terminal, we further added 40 percent of seating, and provided 24/7 mobile drinking water supply trucks, vending machines and extra ventilation facilities on apron areas for ramp workers,” Airport Authority Hong Kong officials say. “The improved working condition is expected to relieve stress associated with the dynamic and fast-paced surroundings on apron and enhance operational performance. Safety is the heart of our business. We offer regular safety roadshows, issues safety circulars and alerts to our RHOs to ensure we are well coordinated and aligned in achieving this common objective.

“Experience-sharing fosters our operators to build safety awareness and skilfulness when operating on apron. In whole, we implement multi-dimensional measures to mitigate risks and advance the quality of the apron working environment for our RHOs. We also encourage individual companies to tailor their own operating and training procedures to deliver efficient, safe and outstanding services at Hong Kong International Airport.”