Thursday, February 03, 2011

Safety on the Front Lines

Article in Aviation Week by Heather Baldwin on 1 February 2011

I'm a bit surprised that the article is written as if human factors is a new idea in the aviation industry, but it does give some good examples of problems. For example taken from a survey of maintenance managers:

* More than half think their employees complete jobs despite the non-availability of specified tools or equipment.
* 16% said they believe their employees have signed off for uncompleted work due to limited time or resources.
* One in 10 managers admitted their line supervisors would approve a mechanic’s actions if he didn’t follow procedures in order to get an aircraft out.
* 26% of technicians believe that their immediate bosses would approve of their actions if they did not follow procedures in order to speed up their work on an aircraft

"An error is rarely the sole fault of an individual; rather, it often is driven by organizational pressures, expectations and unwritten policies."

A technician was fired because, in violation of regulations, he walked an aircraft back solo one night and damaged it. On the surface, it might appear to be the poor judgment of a single individual. In fact, the organization where this occurred had cut back so severely due to cost pressures that it didn’t have the manpower for two wing walkers on the midnight shift. Consequently, under pressure to get the work done, technicians routinely moved airplanes with one walker.

"Maintenance errors are the consequences of the processes, decisions and culture established by the organization."

JetBlue Airways has many safety initiatives including the "Pocket Session" that requires senior leaders to get out routinely and meet with front-line workers. No one is ever punished for bringing forward a safety concern, employees are encouraged and expected to submit safety reports on all potentially unsafe situations they encounter. Examples of unsafe situations reported include "ramp lighting" and "running engines with passengers onboard." JetBlue says its "injuries, ground damages and other measures, has been better year over year almost every year since we’ve been in operation." "From 2009 to 2010, the injury rate for Tech Ops dropped 83%."

I'm slightly concerned that the article is referring to reduced injury rates at JetBlue with no consideration of whether this is relevant to flight safety.

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