Collection of Aviation Safety Articles & Student Activity Ideas

I recently came across an impressive collection of Human Factors related safety stories, mostly concerning aviation, from a the System Safety Services group in Canada. The summaries are written in an accessible way, so I recommend this site for good classroom examples. I was already thinking of a classroom activity, perhaps for an undergraduate course:

In class:
Please read the following excerpt (abridged) from Aviation Human Factors Industry News Volume VII. Issue 17. Provide a list of the pros and cons of allowing ATCs to take scheduled naps during their shifts. Put an * by each pro or con that is safety related. The full article is available via the link above.

…the FAA and the controllers union — with assistance from NASA and the Mitre Corp., among others — has come up with 12 recommendations for tackling sleep-inducing fatigue among controllers. Among those recommendations is that the FAA change its policies to give controllers on midnight shifts as much as two hours to sleep plus a half-hour to wake up. That would mark a profound change from current regulations that can make sleeping controllers subject to suspension or dismissal. Yet, at most air traffic facilities, it’s common for two controllers working together at night to engage in unsanctioned sleeping swaps whereby one controller works two jobs while the other controller naps and then they switch off…

More than two decades ago, NASA scientists concluded that airline pilots were more alert and performed better during landings when they were allowed to take turns napping during the cruise phase of flights. The FAA chose to ignore recommendations that U.S. pilots be allowed “controlled napping.” But other countries, using NASA’s research, have adopted such policies for their pilots. Several countries — including France, Germany, Canada and Australia — also permit napping by controllers during breaks in their work shifts, said Peter Gimbrere, who heads the controllers association’s fatigue mitigation effort. Germany even provides controllers sleep rooms with cots, he said. …fatigue affects human behavior much like alcohol, slowing reaction times and eroding judgment. People suffering from fatigue sometimes focus on a single task while ignoring other, more urgent needs.

One of the working group’s findings was that the level of fatigue created by several of the shift schedules worked by 70 percent of the FAA’s 15,700 controllers can have an impact on behavior equivalent to a blood-alcohol level of .04, Gimbrere said. That’s half the legal driving limit of .08. “There is a lot of acute fatigue in the controller work force,” he said. Controllers are often scheduled for a week of midnight shifts followed by a week of morning shifts and then a week swing shifts, a pattern that sleep scientists say interrupts the body’s natural sleep cycles.

At home:
Your homework assignment is to identify another work domain with similar characteristics where you believe fatigue is a safety concern. Write an argument for requiring rest during work hours or other solutions for fatigue. Again, specifically call out the pros and cons of your solution.

A list of all articles, in newsletter form, can be found here.

Photo credit mrmuskrat @ Flickr

String of Workplace Incidents Lead to Death

A restaurant owner was found deceased in a walk-in cooler, but not for reasons one might expect. You can read the full article here, and I’ll provide a quick summary below.

  • An electrical outage prompted the restaurant to fill the cooler with dry ice to prevent spoilage
  • The button for exiting the cooler from the inside had been broken for some time
  • One of the owners went to check on the food at an unusual time, because he was worried it might be spoiling
  • No one was scheduled to be at the restaurant for many hours after his visit, which was closed due to the power outage
  • He triggered an alarm, but police treated it as a false alarm when the restaurant appeared closed and locked
  • He was overcome by the carbon dioxide fumes when he could not exit the cooler and died

The case includes:

  • A minor incident (power outage) prompting unusual behavior (use of dry ice, checking on the food in the evening)
  • Failure to maintain safety equipment (the exit button)
  • Questionable design of safety equipment (Why use a button instead of a door handle?)
  • Response bias to a likely “false alarm”

HFES on LinkedIn

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society has a lively discussion board hosted at LinkedIn. If you like talking about issues with other professionals, have questions or need resources, or just want to see “what do these people like to talk about?” then I suggest a visit!

Some sample topics:

  • What are the top three classical or seminal papers in HFE that you think every graduate should know?
  • What is a safe number of characters to read on a screen while driving?
  • What is the best statistical method for comparing Modified Cooper Harper ratings for two different designs?
  • Does visual appeal, i.e., aesthetics, enhance usability?
  • What is the best place to place OK button on the computer form?
  • Trends in Function Allocation among cognitive agents (human & machine) – a new era for joint cognitive systems?

Introducing the principle of graceful error recovery to state government

A North Carolina State Representative just accidentally overrode a veto on “fracking” due to being tired and pressing the wrong button during the vote.

Apparently, they aren’t allowed to change their votes if it would alter the overall outcome. So even though she realized it right when she pressed the button, the override stands.

From the article on WRAL:

 Carney characterized her vote as “very accidental.”

“It is late. Here we are rushing to make these kind of decisions this time of night,” she said.

Carney pointed out that she has voted against fracking in the past, and said she spent the day lobbying other Democrats to uphold the veto of Senate Bill 820.

“And then I push the green button,” she said.

Just after the vote, Carney’s voice could be heard on her microphone, saying “Oh my gosh. I pushed green.”