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The morning of Feb 25, 2015, Southwest Airlines made headlines as 128 of their planes were grounded for failing to conduct safety inspections on backup hydraulic systems used to control the rudder if the main system fails. The grounding covers about one-fifth of the Southwest fleet. Spokesperson for Southwest, Brandy King, called the missed safety inspections ‘inadvertent’. Full Story
Meanwhile, in much less significant news, at 11:30AM that same morningI placed a call to the HVAC service company that was supposed to arrive at my home between 8AM and noon. They were to send a technician to perform an inspection on a potential gas leak in my heating system. The service tech was not going to make the window, and the dispatcher was not aware that this was the case.
In addition, this service call should have been avoided entirely as I live in a newly-constructed, Energy Star Certified home. Surely the Energy Star inspection would have uncovered any issues with the HVAC system. How inefficient, not to mention unsafe, is an HVAC system that leaks natural gas?
Of course these mishaps are clearly ‘inadvertent’ in nature too. I have to believe that nobody deliberately sabotages or misses an item on an inspection, or just plain skips the inspection altogether, but it happens all the time.
Suffice it to say that scheduling and communication are core to the issues surrounding the largest and smallest of safety or certification inspection miscues. And labeling these problems as ‘inadvertent’ suggests that human error is a major factor.
Spend some time investigating the common elements that lead to scheduling and communication problems to see if your organization could stand to make some adjustments.
3 Common Elements
Timing is everything.
More importantly, the ability to make adjustments when real life gets in the way of a computer-optimized schedule. In the case of my gas leak service-tech, he made an adjustment and was able to get to me by 2PM (only 2 hours late). This has a cascading effect on the rest of his customers for the rest of the week/month. That’s just one inspector, the issue compounds as the number of field inspectors or technicians grows. It would stand to reason that an issue of this nature could back Southwest safety inspections up for weeks or months.
There is no shortage of information available about a job, a service call, an inspection. The problem lies in the repetitive nature of the recording of the information. Perhaps, the professional that conducted the last safety inspection on a piece of equipment, or even an airplane, made a note indicating the date of the inspection and some issues to be resolved before the next. An administrative professional keys a date in to a scheduling system, which then utilizes a set of business rules to determine the date of the next inspection. But what if the issues that were noted lead to further scheduling of follow up — conceivably, new dates are logged by new inspectors, and the frequency of error rises.
Lag-time in communicating safety inspection results from the field accounts for a large number of inadvertent scheduling and communication issues as well. Any amount of time that lapses between an inspection and the ensuing reports can be cause for concern. There is really no reason for any field auditor or inspector to ever feel disconnected. There is a smartphone in every pocket, yet many inspection agencies have not yet implemented measures to capitalize on that connectivity to improve their processes.
The degree to which these incidents can affect your life, or your business, range from an annoyance to a disaster; or from a slap on the wrist to a 12 million dollar fine (such was the case the last time Southwest had a safety run-in with the FAA).
I’m certain that the FAA will soon get a better explanation from Southwest as to why they missed their safety inspections. In the meantime, contact me if you would like to investigate the potential benefit of a safety inspection scheduling and communication platform for your business.