Always Work With A Safety Net

Nov. 1, 1999

Always Work With A Safety Net

By Richard Komarniski

November 1999

Richard Komarniski is President of Grey Owl Aviation Consultants. He has worked as an Aircraft Maintenance Technician for the last twenty-three years holding AME and A&P Ratings. Richard has been providing Human Factors Training to various aviation maintenance departments. For information on Human Factors training or assistance in setting up a MRM Program contact Grey Owl Aviation Consultants, Box 233, Onanole, Manitoba ROJ 1NO Canada, telephone (204) 848-7353, or fax (204) 848-4605, or [email protected].

Imagine you are a tightrope walker with the tightrope stretched from the airplane to your toolbox. Helping us balance on the tightrope are the safety nets. These consist of regulations, policies, procedures, training, inspection, dual sign off, and the proper tools to do the task to help prevent the latent errors and human factors from affecting our judgment. And just below, if we lose our balance, is a veritable sea of sharks, alligators, and piranhas, all waiting for you to fall through the safety nets into their snapping jaws. Would anyone purposely remove the safety nets and then fall off the tightrope into the hostile sea of disciplinary action, regulatory enforcement action, fines, and suspensions?

As we walk back and forth between the aircraft and the tool box on the tight rope, we have many distractions in our lives that can effect our judgment. These distractions can be personal problems —the human factors that cause maintenance errors (Dirty Dozen) such as fatigue.

Taken one at a time, the human factors that can affect our judgment would have a hard time pushing us off the tightrope. But, there are many times when we are faced with multiple distractions that can negatively influence us and greatly increase the potential of creating a maintenance error. During these times, we need the countermeasures and safety nets to be present in our work environment to protect us from ourselves and help ensure that we perform our jobs correctly 100 percent of the time.

There are numerous regulations, aircraft maintenance manuals, and tools available to assist us in completing our jobs properly. But, errors still occur. The safety nets and countermeasures developed over many years are intended to make sure any errors that do occur are not catastrophic.

As aviation maintenance professionals, we realize that deviating from existing company policy and procedures or not using the correct tools for the task may damage either the part we are removing/installing, the aircraft itself, or both. Sooner or later, the aircraft owner will start asking why it is costing so much to have their aircraft maintained. Management will question why those who are responsible for maintaining the aircraft are unable to have the aircraft available on time.

Deviating from procedures and regulations sets the stage for incidents and accidents to occur. Even relatively small deviations, weaken the safety nets designed to reduce the potential for error. And, when these small deviations are combined with other factors, the safety nets are further weakened.

If an incident occurs for which we are directly or indirectly responsible, we immediately receive an unusual amount of attention. Regulatory authorities, such as Transport Canada, FAA, CAA, or others will want to talk to us. Typically they will investigate the error, determine the cause(s), and possibly levy a fine, suspension, or license revocation. When such enforcement action occurs, aviation maintenance professionals seek the guidance of those in the legal profession. What started as a minor deviation from a policy or procedure becomes an expensive legal battle to counter any enforcement action that could jeopardize a career.

Be aware of the above implications. In our chosen profession, we constantly walk a tightrope.

Continue to use and review your safety nets to make them as effective as possible. We need to make sure we have a tight net protecting us, with no holes in it. Never work without a net!