The NTSB recently published its 2015 list of its top 10 most critical safety recommendations. These recommendations are based on the NTSB’s investigations and analyses of transportation accidents across the various modes; this year, as usual, there are a number of safety improvements applicable to aviation. Of these, I believe four directly apply to maintenance professionals. Now, I say this is what I believe because the Board’s list does not specifically refer to mechanics. Anywhere. This could be good news; the NTSB’s review of accidents apparently did not highlight specific issues with maintenance or mechanics. Or at least issues significant enough to warrant including in their most critical safety recommendations for the current year.
On the other hand, I have seen issues in maintenance related to some of the highlighted recommendations and, while they may not have risen to the level that the NTSB considers most significant for 2015, they are vulnerable areas for maintenance workers. With or without specific recommendations, we can be mindful of these suggestions and we should be. So here are the four I believe we should all pay attention to in our work lives as maintenance professionals:
1. Disconnect from deadly distractions. As the Board states: “the first step toward removing deadly distractions will be to disconnect from non-mission-critical information.” I don’t think you can step on a hangar floor today and not hear the ring of cell phones or see people scanning their phones. And I know these are not all mission critical calls or emails. Disconnecting from electronic devices not essential to the job at hand is just as critical for the safe performance of maintenance as it is for flying an airplane or driving a car.
2. End substance impairment in transportation: The NTSB has repeatedly found substance impairment as a cause or contributing factor in transportation accidents. “Complex machinery…require operators to be at their best – not impaired by alcohol or drugs.” Interestingly, it’s not just illegal drugs that are a problem; over-the-counter drugs that contain sedating antihistamines have been a leading cause of fatal injuries in pilots according to a recent study.
3. Require medical fitness for duty: I’m not suggesting that mechanics be required to get medical certificates. But if you are aware of a medical condition that affects your ability to properly – or safely – perform maintenance functions, you need to get the medical condition attended to so that it doesn’t risk public – or your own –safety. A focus this year for the NTSB has been on sleep apnea which can cause fatigue if left untreated. At least nine fatal accidents across four modes of transportation since 2001 have been attributed to the impacts of sleep apnea. And we all know the mistakes that we make when we’re fatigued.
4. Strengthen procedural compliance: Compliance with procedures. It almost goes without saying how critical this is to proper maintenance. And yet, we can’t say enough. Time and again a failure to follow procedures has led to mistakes, incidents and even fatal accidents.