Human Factors in Aviation SMS: Beyond the “Dirty”
Unfortunately, the concept of Human Factors in aviation SMS has historically carried an undeniable, negative impression about the role of human in safety issues (as well as other issues).
Just consider the synonymous term associated with Human Factors: "The Dirty Dozen.”
Furthermore, the Dirty Dozen focus exclusively on the negative aspects of human attitudes and behavior in safety incidents. In other words, in practical application, Human Factors are used as a problem to be controlled. This is increasingly an insufficient representation of human’s role in aviation SMS.
Without question, human behaviors and attitudes are probably the majority driving force in:
- Hazard occurrence;
- Risk occurrence (i.e., adverse events);
- Poor hazard reporting culture; and
- Poor safety culture.
However, humans are also the important barrier for:
- Recovering from risk occurrence;
- Preventing hazard and risk occurrence;
- Mitigating hazard and risk occurrence; and
- Detecting root causes and threats in the environment.
Humans are both the problem and the solution. This is mind, here are some advanced uses of Human Factors in Aviation SMS.
Traditional Use of Human Factors Classifications
The best way to advance your use of Human Factors is to begin accounting for positive factors during issue classification. As issues are reported, safety managers will qualify and organize them with classifications, such as:
- Type of issue;
- Root causes;
- Associated risk controls; and
- Human Factors.
Organizations that classify Human Factors do so using the negative overtone of the Dirty Dozen, such as the following classifications for the Lack of Teamwork Human Factor.
- Lack of Teamwork
- Strife among employees
- Rude/provocative behavior
- Name calling
- Lack of leadership
- Disrespect team-leader’s command
- No clear leader to organize group
- Lack of clear direction
- Did not understand desired outcome
- Did not understand tasks
- Strife among employees
For a given issue involving lack of teamwork, a safety manager would use such a classification and associate it with the issue.
Advanced Use of Human Factor Classifications
However, what about a situation where teamwork positively affected the outcome of the reported issue?
This data can and should be tracked in order to better understand the performance of the SMS. This way, the new classification tree would look like:
- (…previously listed negative classifications)
- Multiple people worked together to mitigate issue
- Strong leadership
- Leader quickly re-delegated roles/tasks needed to mitigate issue
- All employees followed leader’s directions to mitigate issue
In this way, issues can be positively classified and/or negatively classified. The result is a much better understanding of the complex, multiple ways humans contributed to the issue’s outcome.
Positive Consequences of Advanced Human Factors Classifications
Over time, using advanced Human Factor classifications gives you access to some rather unique data mining abilities through:
- Generating data metrics for human behavior;
- Creating charts for human behavior; and
- Identifying negative and positive trends in behavior.
Just consider a line graph of the top 10 Human Factor classifications over the past year. Ideally, you would see a general rise in positive classifications and a decline in negative classifications.
Or consider a pie chart, where you can see the ratio of positive to negative behaviors that contribute to outcomes.
Considering how important humans are to outcomes, your SMS benefits immensely from understanding human performance.
Human Factors Approach to Aviation Safety
While aviation SMS is traditionally rigidly top-down, there is a good argument to decentralize some of the authority by the Human Factors approach to safety. Very simply, it means relying on humans as the primary risk control to safety incidents.
It’s quite simple. It simply involves:
- Involving employees in the SMS developments and changes more than is traditionally done; and
- Put heavy focus on the economics of safety, namely providing the right incentives for quality behavior.
Another way of looking at it is giving employees more power and responsibility in order to make top-down-critical processes easier to perform.
Final Thought: Understand Management’s Role in Human Factors
Management has several important roles regarding the development, conception, and use of Human Factors:
- Define what Human Factors mean to the SMS;
- Define goals for Human Factors; and
- Identify Human Factors that are observed in practice.
Human Factors have large implications in safety culture. Assessing safety culture is largely a practice of assessing such factors: