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Norms – Human Factors

Norms:  One of the “Dirty Dozen”  of Aviation Human Factor related traps

(1) A side effect of working in teams is the use of norms to guide a person’s behavior. For example, a maintenance team may meet regularly before and after a shift is over or even socially, during days off. If this meeting is not required by the organization, but expected by the team members, then it is a norm.

(2) Norms are omnipresent in society. Norms are expected, yet implicit rules for behavior. That is, norms dictate fundamental rules of dress, speech, and basic interaction. Because they are rules for behavior that define others’ expectations, norms facilitate social interaction by reducing the number of surprises one may encounter in a given social context.

(3) Violation of a norm can prove distressing. For example, a group of maintenance technicians may vigorously enforce the wearing of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) when at work. Not wearing PPE may be not only a source of concern for the norm breaker, but may also elicit negative reactions from those who conform. In this case, others in the surrounding group may sanction the norm breaker.

(4) Norms are usually developed to solve to problems that have ambiguous solutions. When faced with an ambiguous situation, an individual may use another’s behavior as a frame of reference around which to form his or her own reactions. As this process continues, group norms develop and stabilize. Newcomers to the situation are then accepted into the group based on adherence to norms. Very rarely do newcomers initiate change in a group with established norms.

(5) Some norms are unsafe in that they are non-productive or detract from the productivity of the group. Taking shortcuts in aircraft maintenance, working from memory, or not following procedures are examples of unsafe norms. Newcomers are better able to identify these unsafe norms than long-standing members of the group. On the other hand, the newcomer’s credibility depends on his or her assimilation into the group. The newcomer’s assimilation, however, depends on adherence to the group norms. Everyone should be aware of the perceptiveness of newcomers in identifying unhealthy norms and develop a positive attitude toward the possibility that norms may need to be changed. Finally, as newcomers become assimilated into the group structure, they build credibility with others. Once this has been done, a relative newcomer may begin to institute change within the group. Unfortunately, such actions are often difficult to do and rely heavily on the group’s perception of the newcomer’s credibility.

(6) Norms have been identified as one of the dirty dozen in aviation maintenance and a great deal of anecdotal evidence points to the use of unsafe norms on the line. The effect of unsafe norms may range from the relatively benign, such as determining accepted meeting times , to the inherently unsafe, such as pencil-whipping certain tasks. Any behavior commonly accepted by the group, whether as a standard operating procedure (SOP) or not, can be a norm. MRM courses should attempt to help individuals identify group norms, ferret out unsafe norms and take appropriate action.

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