We must do all we can to minimize human errors.
It’s well documented that approximately three out of four aviation maintenance–related mistakes revolve around human factors. Folks, that’s three-quarters, or 75%, of maintenance mistakes—mistakes that are completely preventable.
These aren’t material failures or design flaws; they’re errors committed by you and me, the aircraft maintenance mechanic/technician—errors that are within our control.
You’ve no doubt heard of the aviation maintenance “Dirty Dozen.” If not, here’s a quick rundown of this infamous group of 12 traps to avoid.
- Lack of Communication: Listeners typically absorb only a third of what they hear. To optimize your crew’s retention rate, provide the important information up front and summarize it at the end of your presentation.
- Complacency: Complacency stems from being overly confident about a task you’ve done many times before. Beware of and avoid anticipating what you’ll see or what will happen as you do your work. Instead, expect to see something different each time you perform your tasks.
- Lack of Knowledge: If you’re light on training or experience, let someone in your chain of command know you’re not comfortable with your level of knowledge to perform a task properly and ask for guidance or assistance.
- Distractions: Anything that diverts your attention from the job constitutes a distraction. Focus on the task at the moment and set aside time to handle distractions. I bet your phone is your biggest distraction. Learn how to harness it!
- Lack of Teamwork: If you and your crew are unable to come together to complete a common task, your work will suffer. Everyone has an opinion. Some of you will have more experience than others, but all of you bring something valuable to the table or you wouldn’t be there. Learn how to communicate respectfully with one another and appreciate your team members’ input.
- Fatigue: You know yourself better than anyone, and that includes knowing when to stop working. Recognize when you’re taking a shortcut you wouldn’t normally take. If you’re working with someone else, recognize when they, too, aren’t performing as usual and speak up.
- Lack of Resources: If you don’t have what you need to do the job correctly, mistakes can happen. Usually, in our field, the resource we’re most often short on is time.
- Pressure: Do you find yourself cutting corners to meet someone else’s expectations? If so, stand up for yourself. Be clear about the task and what you feel you need to complete the job successfully. That may be more time, extra help, or additional material resources such as parts or tools.
- Lack of Assertiveness: Speak up when you’re unclear about expectations or are clear about expectations but aren’t being forthright about what it will take to complete the job within the expected parameters. If you don’t relay your concerns, it’s unlikely anyone else will.
- Stress: Stress is the perceived inability to meet a demand. Think through what’s causing your stress and take measures to alleviate it. Share your thoughts with someone on your team who can help reduce your stress. Develop a realistic plan and follow it.
- Lack of Awareness: You don’t know what you don’t know. Educate yourself as much as possible about a task before performing it.
- Norms: These might include unwritten rules, guidance, or expectations that should be brought into question. “We’ve always done it this way” isn’t a good enough reason to continue a past approach. Follow good safety practices and discourage negative behavior and thought patterns in your shop.
I’ve put my own twist on the Dirty Dozen because sometimes seeing or hearing something a different way resonates with people. Managers and mechanics/technicians can scale down the Dirty Dozen to small, manageable areas by doing the following:
- Communicate your job expectations to your team (tasks, parts, tools, and time).
- Train your mechanics/technicians and require them to do recurrent training.
- Manage and minimize your team’s exposure to distractions.
- Promote teamwork and train for it. Human resources departments and private businesses know professionals who specialize in team-building training.
- Clearly illustrate the norms you want to maintain in your shop. Make them tangible and accessible, such as through safety programs and printed materials.
- Ensure that you understand the job requirements, including parts, tools, time, and assistance, if needed.
- Adjust your expectations. Don’t expect the same outcome on similar jobs. Think inspections! Just because something was OK the last time doesn’t mean it will be this time.
- Seek education, on-the-job training, recurrent training, or assistance from someone who’s performed the given task correctly many times before.
- Minimize distractions and follow shop standards. Set aside time to check emails, texts, or calls after completing important work tasks.
- Take advantage of your company’s training
- Set your own personal standards and stick to them. Do the job in accordance with published and accepted practices, and set your own pace. Don’t give in to pressures that cause stress and fatigue.
As you can see, boundaries whose lines shouldn’t be crossed exist for both managers and mechanics/technicians. If boundaries are addressed and managed properly, the rest will fall into place.
We must do all we can to minimize maintenance and pilot errors. These are errors we should be able to control.
If we eliminate the human-factor aspect of accidents and incidents, we’ll soon achieve the seemingly elusive goal of zero crashes, because material or aircraft component failure is very rare these days.