A Layman's Introduction to Human Factors in Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation


This information paper seeks to provide people without an in-depth knowledge of the practice of 'Human Factors' a general plain English explanation of what Human Factors is, how it has evolved, and how it is applied to aircraft accident and incident safety investigations. The paper also gives a brief explanation of international agreements and Australian law as they apply to aircraft accident and incident investigations. Human Factors, which includes 'Ergonomics' as it is called in some industries, is the practice of applying scientific knowledge from varied, mostly human science disciplines such as Psychology, Medicine, Anthropometrics and Physiology to designing, building, maintaining and managing systems and products. In general use, the application of human science knowledge to systems and products is to provide the best match between the characteristics of people, with the operation of the systems and products they use. The purpose of applied Human Factors is to build better and safer products and systems. In aircraft accident and incident investigation, the specific purpose of Human Factors is to understand in detail how and why people make errors (including slips and lapses) or commit violations that lead to accidents. In the development of aviation, the scope of Human Factors has evolved from focusing predominantly on the interface between the pilot and the aircraft to the broader application of considering all the human activities of the system that is involved in the placing and supporting the pilot in the operation of the aircraft. This broader focus considers not only the actions of the pilot, but also, the cabin crew, the maintenance crews, air traffic controllers, and the management of the organisation that controls the activities of the aircraft. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) must, with as much certainty as possible, be able to determine not only what happened in any given accidents, but more importantly, why it happened. This information is critical to the ATSB role in making safety recommendations aimed at improving transport safety. The role of the ATSB is clearly defined in the Australian Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 (TSI Act) which reflects Australian agreement to the international standards and practices for aircraft accident investigation. Both the TSI Act and international agreements state that the investigation of aircraft accidents by safety agencies such as the ATSB is not an activity for apportioning blame or liability, but rather for the purposes of maintaining or improving safety.

Type: Research and Analysis Report
Author(s): David Adams
Publication date: 30 June 2006
Publication number: 1 921092 74 2
Related: Human factors
Last update 07 April 2014
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