Human Factors For Accident Investigators

Human Factors for Accident Investigators

Like flight crew, Accident Investigators are subject to similar issues associated with human factors which can subsequently affect an Accident Investigators performance. Accident Investigators are thoroughly trained to identify and examine human error related to their given investigations. However, the notion of Human Factors for Accident Investigators is beginning to be explored since there are specific issues that affect Accident Investigators compared to other aviation personnel. Human Factors can be associated with causing many aviation incidents and accidents, and it also poses a similar threat to the investigators themselves and their ability to perform their roles effectively (Federal Aviation Administration, 2010

Human Factors – Human Factors has progressively become an important area within the aviation arena. Approximately 70-80% of aviation accidents can be contributed to Human Factors as the determined cause (Reason, 1990). Human Factors involves the study of human characteristics, and more recently ergonomics, to see how those characteristics can cause error and consequently aviation accidents (Orlady, 1993).

Human Factors - Issues and Causes Specific to Accident Investigators:

Fatigue & Stress –Fatigue and stress are evident in most any job or task. However, Accident Investigators are exposed to several unique fatigue and stress contributors. Both physical and psychological, fatigue and stress are prevalent in accident investigation primarily due to the unique conditions that accident investigators can be faced with (SCSI, 2010). For example, in the midst of an investigation the media, organisations and families involved want answers to the cause of the accident. Therefore, long hours are often required in order to find the cause as soon as possible which can take a considerable toll on an Accident Investigators fatigue and stress level. Furthermore, aircraft accidents can happen in remote places ranging from sub-zero condition in the arctic to desert and dense jungle. In addition, accidents can occur in areas of political unrest adding further to both the degree of physical and psychological fatigue and stress already faced by accident investigators (Federal Aviation Administration, 2010).

Physical Environment & Sub-Optimal working conditions - As mentioned above, accident investigators face a vast array of physical environments which they are required to work in. Because of this, it is highly possible for accident investigators in becoming affected by the demands of different physical environments which in turn can affect their job performance both physically and psychologically (Federal Aviation Administration, 2010). In addition, the added stress of choatic scenes of many accident sites may also posses’ the further threat of Bloodbournce Pathogens and Biohazards which only adds to an accident investigators stress and therefore fatigue levels (SCSI, 2010).

Training– Inefficient, Incorrect or lack of training can be detrimental to an accident investigator and to their ability in performing there job correctly (SCSI, 2010). Due to the varying degree of potential scenarios faced by accident investigators, it is often difficult for them to have specific training in a given situation (Federal Aviation Administration, 2010). This is due to the fact that not one accident is the same, nor is it possible to train for every single possible scenario (Orlady, 1993).

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) – PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an important issue which can affect investigators. Accident scenes can be horrific, and Accident Investigators are often required to be exposed to these unsightly scenes (Federal Aviation Administration, 2010). Another possible source of PTSD for accident investigators is the Interviewing of survivors and witnesses, which can carry severe emotional affects (SCSI, 2010). PTSD is a stress and anxiety disorder which is caused by being involved or subjected to a traumatic event. What separates PTSD from other psychological disorders is that even after long periods of time, suffers of PTSD feel as if the event happened very recently, often with frequent and vivid flashbacks resulting in images constantly replaying the events in one’s mind (Coleman, 2007). Though not necessarily instant, PTSD can have a substantial impact on Accident Investigators in the future which could hamper future investigations and their long-term mental health (Coleman, 2007).

Organisational Issues – Accident Investigators face unique organisational issues in regards to Human Factors compared to other aviation related positions in aviation. For example, investigators can be bombarded with media creating the potential for a high amount of stress which could affect their performance of their investigation (Federal Aviation Administration, 2010). Furthermore, investigation issues such as Party Status can also contribute to an investigators fatigue and stress substantially. For example, if a Boeing aircraft crashes in Iran, Iran will have control of the investigation since Iran was the state of occurrence, even if it was an American registered and produces aircraft (SCSI, 2010). With the current political issues between the two countries, there is potential for the investigation to be affected negatively in this case, especially if the investigator and their party are American. Chain of command can also have consequences affecting an investigators performance through ways such as fatigue, stress and human performance (Green, 1996). If it is a large investigation with several groups and organisations involved, barriers and bureaucracy can be detrimental to both the investigation and investigators.

How to manage Human Factors specific to Accident Investigators:

Understanding and Managing Error – One of the best tools for Accident Investigators is to have a firm understanding of the unique Human Factors affecting Accident Investigation. By being aware of these issues, managing the specific Human Factors associated with Accident Investigators will be more successful.

HFACS (Human Factors Analysis and Classification System) - Human Factors Analysis Classification System (HFACS) is an excellent tool for Accident Investigators in order to management their own Human Factors issues specific to Accident Investigators and the position itself (SCSI, 2010). HFACS is a useful tool for investigators since is it able to identify human causes in accident investigation which can help address training and specific on the job issues associated with accident investigation.

Training – A proper training program which educates investigators not just about investigating human factors in aviation accidents, but the overall awareness of Human Factors related to job of accident investigation itself is essential (Federal Aviation Administration, 2010). By having an effective program and awareness of Human Factors related issues specific to investigators, it is likely that accident investigation will improve drastically.


Coleman, P. (2007). Flashback: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, and the Lessons of War . Beakon Press.
Federal Aviation Administration. (2010). Aircraft Cabin Safety Investigation Course. USA: Transportation Safety Institute.
Green, R. (1996). Human Factors for Pilots. United Kingdom: Ahsgate Publishing.
Orlady, H. (1993). Human Factors in Flight. United Kingdom: Ashgate.
Reason, J. (1990). Human Error. New York: Cambridge.
SCSI. (2010). Aircraft Cabin Accident Investigation. USA: SCSI Southern California Safety Institute.

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