“If you are looking for perfect safety, you will do well to sit on a fence and watch the birds; but if you really wish to learn, you must mount a machine and become acquainted with its tricks by actual trial.”
– Wilbur Wright, from an address to the Western Society of Engineers in Chicago, 18 September 1901.
Our annual Summer bonus digital edition of D.O.M.magazine is now online. In the issue, we put together numerous articles that focus on Safety. Our contributing human factors writer Gordon Dupont feels that Safety is so important that we should always capitalize the word. If you have been paying attention to his articles, you will notice that “Safety” is always capitalized. I have chosen to do the same in this article.
The quote at the top attributed to Wilbur Wright highlights a different culture of Safety that existed in the early days of aviation. Back then, pilots took risks every time they got behind the controls of an aircraft. Many aviators died in those early aviation days as they pushed the limits of those early flying machines. Mechanics were also learning as they went along. There were no mentors to teach them the ins-and-outs of proper maintenance! There were no maintenance manuals. When early maintenance manuals came out, they didn’t provide much information. I remember reading an old DC-3 maintenance manual a few years back and laughed out loud when I saw the reference to adjusting cable tensions. It said something like, “Adjust cables so they don’t flop, but not so tight that they bind.” Those early mechanics were mostly “winging it.”
Fast forward to aviation today. Mechanics and pilots apply Safety measures every day. The aircraft we work on have redundant systems and lots of Safety measures built in. We use PPE to protect our bodies from environmental dangers. We rely on maintenance manuals, illustrated parts catalogs and other technical information to ensure we are properly maintaining the aircraft we work on. Many aviation companies even have dedicated Safety departments and personnel.
We are much more informed as individuals than those early mechanics were. Yet accidents and incidents still happen. It’s our human characteristics that allow this to happen. As Patrick Kinane says in his article on page 48, “A person is a fallible being with an irrational brain that does not think like a machine.”
Norms contribute to unsafe behaviors. Why is the mechanic standing on top of a step stool placed on a work platform without any sort of fall protection? Because, “That’s the way we’ve always done it around here.”
Distraction can lead to Safety issues. Have you ever been in the middle of a task when you were called away? How do we ensure that we pick up where we left off?
Fatigue is also dangerous. Many of us have been there — working long hours to get the aircraft out on schedule. Studies have shown that working after 18 hours is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.05% - 0.10%! Is that truly Safe?
In fact, all human factors affect Safety. As a refresher, the Dirty Dozen are Fatigue, Complacency, Lack of Resources, Lack of Communication, Norms, Distraction, Stress, Pressure, Lack of Teamwork, Lack of Awareness, Lack of Knowledge and Lack of Assertiveness
Dupont graciously educates our readers on Human Factors each month in his regular column, The Human Error. All of his past articles are available to read on www.DOMmagazine.com.
You can also visit www.system-safety.com to learn more about Dupont and his team and the training they provide. His website also provides plenty of resources to help people learn even more about Human Factors.
Thanks for reading and stay Safe!