How can we prevent organisational accidents?

Part 3

Make “challenging” better. Group think can be a source of innumerable problems. It doesn’t necessarily cause unethical organisational behaviours, but it sure does support them when they take hold. One method that can bust a cycle of self-deception is that of peer review. That is the sort of peer review where qualified participants can act independently, use their expertise and comment without prejudice.

I’m going to go back to the early 1990s. I have been fortunate to experience several different ways that aircraft certification and validation can be conducted. The method applied by the UK prior to the gradual harmonisation that took place to form the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) was unique.

A multidisciplinary team would visit an aircraft manufacture for a week or more. This was an intense activity of technical investigation. The output was an “orange book” and a series of findings that the aircraft manufacture must address before a national type certificate could be granted.

This process was hard work. It’s advantage was that a complete exploration of an aircraft type could be documented and that an applicant for a type certificate would be left in no doubt what needed to be done next. The first part of the activity was technical familiarisation. Each technical discipline would get a briefing on either the actual aircraft type or what was planned. This was done at the infancy of word processing. Believe it or not, I remember scissors and glue being used to cut and paste text to make-up the explanations and findings.

The purpose of these words is not to describe the use of airworthiness requirements (BCARs and the early JARs) but to describe what happened when the technical team returned home.

Having created an “orange book” with its key findings there was a need to inform colleagues of the who, what, where when and why. The authority’s senior management had to buy-in to the work of the technical team.

There were often a series of genetic findings that would deal with typical additional UK requirements. However, often more contentious was the technical findings that addressed flaws in compliance or design or unique technical features or controversial issues.

Having returned to the office members of the technical team had to justify their findings to their peers. This was done in a formal manner. It could be a daunting process. No stone was left unturned in questioning the investigation that had been done on-site at the aircraft manufacture. It was initiating to do this for the first time. Particularly when standing in front of the grandees who had been doing such work for decades. Some who had written the rules in the first place.

Although this was a tough process, it’s one that benefits a mature organisation a lot. It shakes complacency out of the system. It’s truly to be challenged.

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