Understanding Aviation Human Factors – Why Do people Break Rules?


Why people break rules, particularly if the outcome can be negative and even dangerous?

What is it that makes a worker break the rules or commit a violation?

A great deal of research has been undertaken during the last 25 years with the focus looking at the view of errors in a different way.

Rather than Human error being considered the ultimate cause of system failure, it is important to understand the context in which the error was committed. (For example, was it deliberate or related to Pressure, Fatigue, Stress or any of the other “Dirty Dozen”?)

Violations – Personal or Organizationally Optimizing?

To reduce exposure to violations and errors, a broad range of organisational interventions may be required.

Typically, workers behaviour is regulated by organisational procedures, codes of practice, and rules. When considering Violations, we often find that behaviour is directly related to how people connect or adapt to the situations that prevail in their workplace.

The reality is that violations occur for many different reasons and it is very rare that deliberate acts of vandalism are enacted.

Most people set out with the intention to perform in the correct way with a satisfactory outcome. When the outcome is, in fact, negative the rational becomes that a degree of “waiver” existed for example of manpower shortages, or work pressures etc.

Moreover, the degree of deviation from normally expected behaviour was perceived to be within the knowledge and skill set of the worker (clearly not the case with a negative outcome!)

Although an error may appear to be the immediate cause of an incident, the necessary condition in the accident sequence may have been a violation of a safety rule.

How to Reduce Violations?

It has been shown that skills training can lead to a reduction in errors, it will not significantly impact violating behaviours.

Reducing violations requires an understanding of both the motivational and attitudinal precursors to the event.

Typical causes include:

a) Inadequate documentation;

b) The belief that the approved procedure or process is inefficient;

c) Time pressure to complete a task lack of proper equipment;

d) Conflicting goals,

e) Group norms that support shortcuts:

f) The nature of the maintenance job;

g) Overconfidence

h) Complacency

i) Perceived benefit to the worker in terms of saved time, energy, and effort

j) A poor attitude towards following safety procedures

Violations tend to take people into an area of greater risk, thereby making the situation less forgiving of subsequent errors.

It is not unusual to find that acceptance of rule violations which have become the norm is often the strongest predictor of unsafe behaviour.

Inadequate training, incorrect procedures. and/or poor task allocation may contribute to accidents by creating an environment which breeds unsafe behaviour, including both errors and violations.

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