A Different Look at Aviation SMS Human Factors
I’ve never much cared for the phrase “Human Factors.”
It has a negative edge to it that unfortunately has tended to bleed into the mindset of many aviation SMS implementations as the “Human Problem” - the thing that needs to be fixed. Just look at the fact that the 12 Human Factors are called "The Dirty Dozen.”
When Human Factors in aviation SMS are viewed as a problem to be controlled, the natural result is to focus on rule-based, prescriptive methods of containing the risk that humans pose.
The aviation industry needs a more sustainable, adaptable solution than this, and therefore it needs a more sustainable way of looking at people.
While humans can be the unwitting contributors to safety incidents, they are also THE important barrier for
- Mitigation, and
Therefore, humans need to be viewed as a solution rather than a problem to be controlled. Moreover, the Human Factors Dirty Dozen need to be understood simply as a default state to “work up” from, rather than “stay away” from.
Related Aviation Human Factors Articles
- Let’s Talk Human Factors - Origin of Dirty Dozen
- 3 Most Important Human Factors in Aviation SMS – They’ll Surprise You
- Let’s Talk Human Factors: Distraction Is #4 of the Dirty Dozen
Every new SMS will have to:
- Acquire resources;
- Cultivate teamwork;
- Create incentives;
- Generate avenues of communication;
- Develop sophisticated SMS training; etc.
And so on down the list of The Dirty Dozen mitigation strategies.
As long as strong measures are created that support quality human actions, employees will:
- watch out for risky behavior and hazards,
- support each other and the environment, and
- cultivate a healthy aviation safety program.
Human Factors in aviation SMS should be about empowering people rather than treating them like a potential “bad guy.”
Looking at Aviation SMS from a Human Factors Perspective
One of the greatest benefits of looking at aviation safety programs through the lens of Human Factors is that safety management can make a distinction between the “operational” and “structural” aspects of their safety program. Structural aspects of the safety program are the bureaucracy of the program, like:
- Policies and procedures;
- Hazard risk register database;
One thing I think the FAA has done very well in recent years is gradually moving from rule-based regulation to goal-based regulation. This has essentially given operators an incentive to make their primary approach to aviation safety management systems through operations in addition to the structure. In other words, human actions vs. bureaucracy.
Approaching aviation SMS goals through human action requires management to believe that human activity is the first step to creating the safest, most productive SMS, and around which the structural aspects of the program are developed. In other words, a “from the ground up” approach to safety makes the study of Human Factors – i.e. the specific strengths and weaknesses of employees' behaviors – critical in your SMS program.
Human Factors Are the Bottom-Up Approach to Safety
A bottom-up approach to safety recognizes that humans are at the center of an aviation SMS program. Likewise, a Human Factors approach to risk management is a ‘human-centered’ approach to safety. This means that when designing and implementing the structural aspects of the program, aviation safety managers consider the people in the system ahead of procedures, policies, and technologies.
A bottom-up, Human Factors approach to aviation safety involves two things:
- Involving employees early in the development of the SMS to get their buy-in; and
- Understanding employees' motivations and designing the structure of the SMS to empower those motivations in the right direction.
Designing a structure that is in line with the general attitude and strengths of the SMS' safety culture will naturally create tasks that are easier for employees to
- accept, and
Safety managers can see the benefits to their safety reporting cultures with:
- More involvement in aviation SMS;
- Less resistance to change;
- Improved safety reporting metrics; and
- Easier for management to complete top-down management responsibilities.
Have You Read
- How to Develop Safety Reporting Cultures in Aviation SMS
- How Aviation Safety Managers Can Improve Safety Reporting Cultures
- Essential KPIs for Poor Hazard Reporting Cultures in Aviation SMS - with Free KPI Resources
Human Factors Should Be Approached through Incentives
I’ve firmly maintained that all human action in an aviation safety program is a system of interacting incentives. Incentives are critical for aviation SMS. Overcoming the negative aspects of “The Dirty Dozen” requires that employees have an incentive for behavior that is the opposite.
Let’s look at a few examples.
- Lack of Knowledge can easily arise from lack of training or lack of interesting SMS training, and quality training gives individual’s incentive to learn;
- Lack of Communication can happen for a variety of reasons, but having a zero-tolerance policy towards intimidating behaviors, investing in quality communication tools such as hazard reporting tools, and non-punitive policies are just some ways that give incentive for quality communication;
- Complacency often arises from lack of involvement, and making strong efforts to involve employees' process of change in the SMS gives them a strong incentive to care about the aviation safety program.
The list goes on, and no doubt you can think of many incentives for each of The Dirty Dozen. The important difference between an incentive and any other type of risk control is that incentives give the employee a reason for a particular behavior, rather than forcing the behavior upon him/her.
Human Factors gives an SMS a “baseline” of where to create incentives.
Final Thought: Management’s Role in Human Factors
When it comes to Aviation SMS Human Factors, management has several responsibilities:
- Have a stance about their approach to Human Factors;
- Create a commitment to working with Human Factors in their SMS;
- Identify the Human Factors that are most prevalent in their safety program; and
- Ensure that the operational and structural aspects of the safety program are designed together.
A professional tip here is to use a human factors classification schema to track your safety issues. As you detect either a negative or positive influence of human factors in relation to reported safety events, document this relationship. As time passes, you will quickly have enough actionable data to make meaningful changes in your organization.
There are low-cost, commercially available SMS database programs that automate these tasks. Contact us see such as system.
Many hazards deal with human factors. Here is an excellent resource to review your hazards
Last updated August 2023.