Report Says Mechanics Missing in Human Factors Efforts

 - February 25, 2009, 9:26 AM

In a report titled “An Overview of Human Factors in Aviation Maintenance,” the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) concludes, “The errors of maintenance technicians are the visible manifestation of problems with roots deep in the organization. Yet until recently, maintenance personnel were overlooked by the human factors profession. Most significantly, maintenance errors can have grave implications for flight safety.” The report goes on to note that at the end of the work day, pilots and controllers are finished, but mechanics “know that the work they performed will be relied on by crew and passengers for months or years into the future. On more than one occasion, maintenance personnel have taken their own lives following aircraft accidents caused by maintenance error.” Comparing mechanics to doctors, the report notes, “Opening up a healthy patient at regular intervals to check that organs are functioning normally would not be an appropriate strategy in healthcare, yet preventive maintenance in aviation often requires us to disassemble and inspect normally functioning systems, with the attendant risk of error.”