A Leonardo AgustaWestland helicopter hovers for a moment before it touches down in a cloud of dirt and dust on the far bank of the Rio Grande River gorge. At the bottom, Paul Blake mumbles before slipping into a coma, “Carabiner…dog carabiner…” The leader of the New Mexico Mountain rescue team strains to hear the words. Up to their chest in the murky current, the team feverishly work to move Paul to the helicopter without causing further damage to his many fractured bones. He is transported by LIFESTAR to an Albuquerque hospital.
The jump coordinator stands a group excited BASE jumpers side-by-side to inspect their deployment bag. Each bag is filled with neatly wrapped bungie cords, carabiners, and other tools utilized to make a safe jump from a BASE: building, antenna, spans, earth. When the coordinator came to Paul, a highly experienced BASE jumper, they smiled at each other as Paul said, “I got this.” The coordinator assumed that everything was in order because of Paul’s years of successful jumps. Therefore, his bag was not checked.
There is a knock at Paul’s door. His neighbor is holding Paul’s dog by the collar. It had broken the latch to the dog run. As a temporary fix to the problem, Paul grabbed a carabiner from his deployment bag to secure the dog in its cage.
Unchecked repetitive tasks can be the seed for larger problems. Paul’s failed intention to return the safety device was replaced by his overconfidence because he has perfectly assembled his deployment bag dozens of times.
In aviation, there are thousands of repetitive tasks. However simple, each are necessary for a fully functional aircraft. All assignments, whether it’s the first or the thousandth time, need to be handled with the same attention to detail. Often, the lack of focus due to work repetition can create a thought loop, in which an individual believes that they have accomplished a job when it was not.
Everyone makes mistakes. In aviation, there are processes to help prevent oversight. Regular inspections based on flight hours help with aircraft wear and tear. During inspection, the aircraft is given a detailed examination to help keep it safe for use. Humans also need such inspections to review their job proficiency. This can be a self-analysis or part of a job performance interview. Having regular discussions with leadership can help an individual reflect on their positive and negative work habits. Without retrospect, a worker can repeat errors until it becomes a habit of poor workmanship.
Quality control also helps in saving lives, both on the ground and in the air. Checklists are a standard part of repair and inspection procedures in most hangars. Some tasks are even broken down into multiple sub-steps to ensure the task is executed with precision. Oversights take place when a technician assumes that the unusual can never happen. Placing faith in a component being defect-free is opening the door for a catastrophe.
Following a checklist takes a technician on the most direct route to completing assignments, reduces complacency, and increases safety. Remember, being cautious is not a waste of time, even in time-sensitive situations.
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