Simple instructions

Oct. 1, 1998

Simple Instructions

By John Goglia

October 1999

John Goglia is a member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). He has been a technician for USAir for the past 30 years.

Long ago, when I attended a Part 147 school in preparation for my airframe and powerplant exams, it was normal for the instructors to state over-and-over how much responsibility accompanied the certificate. Day after day, we perform tasks that if accomplished improperly, can cause serious property damage or loss of life. When we perform our assigned maintenance tasks within a maintenance organization, and follow the process and procedures, we minimize the chances for something to go wrong. In a previous issue, I touched on the problems that arise from task documents that do not agree with the manufacturers' manuals; however, the potential for maintenance misadventure can arise from a different direction.

Many times during the course of maintenance, we will have a question about the task we are performing, and, as an alternative to going into the manual, we will ask a co-worker, the lead, or the foreman. This happens on a very frequent basis and sometimes this can get you into serious trouble.

As I write this, I think back on the many times that I responded to questions from co-workers, sometimes in a very casual manner, about task questions that they had. Occasionally, I would not even stop doing what I was doing, but just respond and continue on. In hindsight, I do not believe that this type of leadership is what is expected of us, but at the time, this type of behavior was the norm.

While I do not believe that my actions caused anyone to do anything improper, given what I have learned about FAA enforcement actions and maintenance human factors, I know that today I would handle these events differently.

When you are the person accomplishing a task, and you seek advice from another, you are still responsible for the satisfactory completion of that task. Previous articles have been written about mechanics who have had their certificates suspended for following advice that later was proven to be incorrect.

Often it is not intentional that the wrong advice is given. We all have tasks to accomplish, and in the press to finish some things we mis-speak or we may not hear all that was said — aircraft maintenance workers with hearing problems? Never!!!

In some of the maintenance human factors meetings I've attended, we had discussions centered around the wisdom of asking and following the verbal instructions of supervision in determining whether or not something is okay to continue. There is a school of thought that says that if a supervisor is measured by on-time departures, and you ask his opinion on something that may cause a delay, the most common response will be the response that will not cause a delay.

One need only look to Eastern Air Lines just prior to their shut down, to find several examples of this. These charges, however, were not proven in court. The Government dropped these issues several years after bringing them up.

Don't misunderstand me here. I am not saying that every lead or foreman would not give proper advice or allow other pressures to interfere with proper decision making. However, there are examples to indicate this possibility has occurred in the recent past.

The best defense against any maintenance misadventure is to follow the procedures, and when special circumstances require you to use verbal instructions, write them down. Repeat the instructions back and include them in the sign-off; including the name of the person giving the instructions.

Always remember that if you indicate something was accomplished, you will be held responsible for that task and the punishment could go as far as revocation of your certificate.