Human Factors at NASA

3-minute read
Human Factors

The Office of Safety and Mission Assurance-sponsored Human Factors Task Force (HFTF) advocates training, promotion and outreach of Human Factors across the agency. Over the last three years, the HFTF developed numerous tools within the Human Factors Program. The HFTF members promote addressing Human Factors preventatively to improve organizational performance, as well as retrospectively by identifying the role of Human Factors in mishap investigations. The HFTF Points of Contact (PoCs) from across the agency collaborate to further develop the program and use Human Factors tools to improve human performance within NASA.

“We developed NASAHFACS 1.0 and used it at the center level to see how it went,” said Tracy Dillinger, Human Factors Program manager. “We saw that it was valuable; the center could use it to take action and make a difference. It was a bit of an eye-opener to Armstrong Flight Research Center leadership.”

The HFTF developed a NASA version of the widely-known Human Factors Analysis and Classifications System (HFACS), called NASAHFACS. In coordination with the original creators of HFACS, Doug Wiegmann and Scott Shappell, the HFTF created a 2017 agencywide Human Factors analysis and report of operationally-related mishaps and close calls.

When developing the tool, the HFTF tested it by reassessing Armstrong aviation mishap events contained within NASA’s Mishap Information System (NMIS) in Fiscal Years (FYs) 14, 15 and 16. The case studies allowed the HFTF to find strengths and weaknesses in the tool and used the information to clarify NASAHFACS.

“The majority of NASA mishaps can be connected to human events,” said Nick Kiriokos, HFTF cochair and Armstrong Human Factors specialist. “We want to be as safe and efficient as we can, and the best way to do that is to understand Human Factors.”

Armstrong developed multiple safety programs as a result of the case studies. The Aviation Safety Working Group (ASWG) and Aviation Safety Council developed the PACE program to help promote Safety Culture and prompt professionals to PACE — Pause, Assess, Communicate and Execute/Evaluate. The ASWG also hired a Human Factors instructor from the California Safety Institute to develop a NASA- and Armstrong-specific course to train the entire flight operations staff on Human Factors.

Because NASAHFACS was so successful at the center level, the team decided to use it to tackle agency reports and developed the 2017 annual Human Factors report. Again, using the NMIS database, the HFTF pulled agencywide mishap data from FY17.

“For the first time, we did a Human Factors analysis of operational-type events and we’re continuing to do that in order to trend Human Factors across the agency,” said Dillinger.

The HFTF is currently working on the 2018 annual report for the agency and providing Human Factors support to Mishaps Investigation Boards. The team is applying NASAHFACS to Type A, B and C operational mishaps.

“I think our work will be a great benefit to the agency,” said Dillinger. “We want a greater awareness of Human Factors and to be able to prevent Human Factors-related events.”

Other tools have been made for the Human Factors community from the taxonomy, including the NASAHFACS quick reference sheet, investigators checklist and trifold.

The HFTF also has multiple projects in the works, including three types of training courses, NASAHFACs maps and a Human Factors handbook. The group developed a two-day certification course, a two-hour refresher course and a one-hour executive level course to teach the concepts and information necessary to perform Human Factors analyses.

The handbook will describe how to use NASAHFACS, who the Human Factors Program PoCs are and the agency’s approach to Human Factors. The handbook is currently in review and scheduled to be released April 2019.