Human Factors May Affect the Results of Accident Investigations
Just as human factors can cause an accident, human factors can also play a role in the effectiveness of an investigation into that accident. Accident investigators are subject to similar human factors that pilots and air traffic controllers are vulnerable to. Similarly, an error made while they are performing their job can severely alter the accuracy of the investigation, which will affect all the parties involved. As with most of the aviation industry, accident investigators are trained to recognize and be very conscious and aware of the factors that could be affecting them and their workforce around them.
Human factors can have a variety of definitions depending on who in the aviation industry is asked. In very broad definition, human factors are the physical and psychological effects that interfere with the functioning or application of the task at hand.
For purposes of aircraft accident investigation, what human factors could potentially affect the investigator?
- Self-imposed medical stresses. These can be colds, flu’s, headaches, injuries, and even the investigators attitude. Medications and over the counter drugs would also be included in this category. Alcohol and illegal drugs are included in this category as well. While one may mainly think of these things only having negative effects on pilots’ job performance, they can affect the investigator in the same way. Investigators must show up to the scene ready to give their top performance and full focus. Investigators will additionally be subject to long hours and brutal weather conditions that would make coping with one of these medical stresses even harder on the body.
- Environmental stresses- Accident investigations are often subject to brutal environmental conditions. They are often exposed to different climates that their bodies are not used to, which can cause acclimatization issues with the bodies’ temperature control system. In high heat they can be exposed to heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and dehydration. In extreme cold they can suffer symptoms of hypothermia, which would lead to extreme discomfort and distraction. At an accident site they must also be alert about being exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes.
- Sleep and fatigue are quite often talked about. Fatigue can have many different causes, but in an investigators case they are most likely to incur fatigue caused by the strenuous activities they have been performing under demanding circumstances. Jet lag from travel to the accident site is also a factor an investigator must be conscious of.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder- Accident scenes can be horrific sites. The teams that travel to these sites and spend any amount of time there are at great risk of developing PTSD. The things they see can lead to severe physiological trauma that in some cases may never go away. An investigator dealing with PTSD or experiencing anxiety at an investigation will not be focused enough to be performing their best work.
These factors can have a serious effect on the way an investigation is conducted. In addition the data collected from the investigation can play a large role in the outcome of the situation of everyone involved. An experienced aviation lawyer will undertake an independent investigation, utilizing trusted investigators, to mitigate any human factors investigation errors.Curry, Pearson & Wooten, PLC litigates airplane and helicopter accidents worldwide. Contact us for a free consultation.