Kern Says Human Error Remains a Top Challenge

 - July 22, 2013, 12:20 PM

Convergent Performance CEO Tony Kern thinks it’s time the aviation industry moved past the old adage that “to err is human.” In his recent book, The Blue Threat, the human-factors expert argues that to err is in fact “inhuman.”

He offered a short human-factors refresher in the July 9 SM4 safety newsletter in light of the Asiana Airlines 214 accident in San Francisco on July 6, which at this early stage is being attributed to a lack of cockpit discipline and flying skills.

Kern believes that claiming errors just happen because we’re human is a “cop-out for avoidable and correctable mistakes that give up far too much ground…resulting in unnecessary compromise of our life’s missions and goals.” He said there’s enough recent life-altering research in existence that is capable of changing pilot performance for the better. Putting this into practice, however, requires a significant amount of work, effort he believes is well worth it.

The first step to victory over the randomness and variability of human error is to realize that “error is only random in a group setting.” In a sample size of just one, “error is both predictable and preventable.” A key first step to preventing aviation accidents is the desire to change behavior and, of course, accepting the fact that the individual is actually making mistakes in the first place. One of the great human-factors fallacies, claimed Kern, is that “training someone to do something right automatically means we are training them not to do something wrong.”