The Self-Protecting Skill Worth Developing, By Roger Hughes

18 Sep 09:41 | Comments (0)


Although many maintenance incidents reflect organizational problems, the maintenance technicians themselves are the last line of defense in that organization. There are strategies that technicians can activate to reduce their chances of being involved in an incident. Most importantly, our skills, habits, beliefs and knowledge can all be changed in ways that increase the reliability of human performance.

Effective error management comes more from having an appropriate mindset than from extensive documentation. It takes Murphy’s Law at its starting point: What can go wrong will go wrong. Errors are to be expected; they are a fact of human life. Listed below are some of the most potent error-provoking factors when performing maintenance. Many of these items should look familiar; they bear a striking resemblance to the proud members of the “Dirty Dozen.” 

Excessive Reliance on Memory

Our memories are not always as reliable as we think, particularly when we are tired. Memory lapses are the most common errors in maintenance.


Maintenance activities are subject to frequent interruptions – someone needs advice, you get a phone call, or (as is the case with operating a shuttle aircraft) you are called off to load bags, de-ice, etc. Whatever the nature, all such distractions act to raise your stress level and increase the likelihood of making an error.


Signs of pressure come in many forms. For example, being asked “How long is it going to take,” getting angry during a job activity, starting to curse more than usual, or being anxious to go home. Under such pressures, even the most respected technicians can find themselves leaving out steps or taking shortcuts


You may not feel tired, but if you have not had a good night’s sleep in the past few days, or have worked a lot of overtime, there is a good chance that you may be impaired by fatigue.

Inadequate Communication

A breakdown in communication is one of the most common circumstances leading to incidents. In some cases, assumptions are made about a job without communicating confirmation. Good shift change/turnover procedures are essential in communicating job status.

Unfamiliar Jobs

An example of this might be performing a task that is not part of your normal duties, or doing a task for the first time. 
A further interesting note to point out is a number of maintenance incidents have involved managers/supervisors helping out by getting involved in hands-on work. Although such people may be technically qualified and highly motivated, their practical skills may be degraded.


This is any situation in which you are unsure of what is going on. It should be a sign to stop and clarify the task at hand.

Highly Routine Procedures

This is any procedure that we may become so familiar with that it may let our mind wander, essentially putting us under the control of the “mental autopilot.”

Once maintenance technicians are aware of their own vulnerabilities, we can learn to recognize human performance danger signs. The ability to appreciate the significance of these “red flags” is a self-protecting skill worth developing.


Be Safe in the Region of Risk, 

Roger Hughes, 

Decoding Human Factors, LLC, 


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