For decades, the aviation medicine community has recognized that human factors threats are closely associated with mishaps. In fact, from 2001 through 2011, the Air Force average for human factors attributed Class A aviation mishaps was 73 percent. Military human factors professionals have discussed, taught, trained and briefed the deadly effects of channelized attention and other human factor threats. Most aviation professionals can define or identify a mishap where human factors were present; however, is there anything we can do to mitigate these human performance threats?
Proactive safety programs along with human factors analysis bridges the gap between two separate, yet related, fields in aviation safety. Proactive safety helps "close the loop" on existing human factors issues that may be present.
As the name implies, proactive safety enables investigators to identify operational threats and trends before a mishap occurs. Military Flight Operations Quality Assurance (MFOQA) is one such way errors or dangerous flight parameters can be recognized before a mishap. Historically, aviation human factors experts collect and analyze data from mishaps that have already occurred and then forecast ways to predict and prevent future mishaps. MFOQA allows the investigator to analyze and predict a mishap without a mishap occurring!
Without a doubt, the best applied training for aviators is from aviators. Timely and applicable education is an effective way to reduce human factors mishaps. The self-reporting tool, Air Force Airman Safety Action Program (ASAP) allows airmen to discuss "there I was stories" and identify hazards. The more we can learn from our "near-misses", the more likely we will prevent future mishaps from occurring. This is proactive safety in action!
The Line Operations Safety Audit (LOSA) program provides an over-the-shoulder, peer observation to assess safety margins and improvement measures. Aviators have undergone many hours of Crew Resource Management (CRM) and LOSA can measure the effectiveness and utility of this program. Successful communication and crew dynamics can set the stage for success. A LOSA observer can provide a crew with feedback on how well they utilized CRM.
MFOQA, ASAP and LOSA can be effective programs to provide tangible, often real-time, feedback on crew flight performance. Non-punitive, proactive safety programs educate crews BEFORE a mishap occurs. Again, most aviation professionals can define or identify a mishap where human factors were present; however, we must lean forward and prevent aviation threats. Clearly, through proactive safety, we can collectively reduce mishaps.
Chief, Investigations Branch
Human Factors Division
Headquarters Air Force Safety Center