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Unsafe acts and unsafe outcomes in aircraft maintenance

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Road safety studies using the Driver Behaviour Questionnaire (DBQ) have provided support for a three-way distinction between violations, skill-based errors and mistakes, and have indicated that a tendency to commit driving violations is associated with an increased risk of accident involvement. The aims of this study were to examine whether the three-way distinction of unsafe acts is applicable in the context of aircraft maintenance, and whether involvement in maintenance safety occurrences can be predicted on the basis of self-reported unsafe acts. A Maintenance Behaviour Questionnaire (MBQ) was developed to explore patterns of unsafe acts committed by aircraft maintenance mechanics. The MBQ was completed anonymously by over 1300 Australian aviation mechanics, who also provided information on their involvement in workplace accidents and incidents. Four factors were identified: routine violations, skill-based errors, mistakes and exceptional violations. Violations and mistakes were related significantly to the occurrence of incidents that jeopardized the quality of aircraft maintenance, but were not related to workplace injuries. Skill-based errors, while not related to work quality incidents, were related to workplace injuries. The results are consistent with the three-way typology of unsafe acts described by Reason et al. (1990) and with the DBQ research indicating an association between self-reported violations and accidents. The current findings suggest that interventions addressed at maintenance quality incidents should take into account the role of violations and mistakes, and the factors that promote them. In contrast, interventions directed at reducing workplace injury are likely to require a focus on skill-based errors.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Bureau of Air Safety Investigation, Canberra, Australia 2: NSW Injury Risk Management Research Centre, Sydney, Australia

Publication date: October 1, 2002

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