Shiftwork is used extensively in commercial air transport maintenance operations. Many operations run two — usually eight or nine hour — shifts per day, although large airline operations may run three shifts per day. In situations in which aircraft maintenance technicians or engineers are working shifts or duty periods that conflict with their natural circadian rhythm, or if they work more than one shift in succession, or multiple shifts in just a few days, fatigue is a significant risk.
Another risk to be considered and mitigated involves the passing of incomplete work tasks or assignments from an outgoing shift to the incoming shift. Without effective shift change procedures and communications, the risk of errors increases and can threaten the safety of subsequent flight operations.
Aircraft maintenance tasks typically are broken down into detailed functional packets that require tasks to be completed in a certain sequence, and some tasks may take longer to complete than a single shift. Also, the number of complex tasks to be completed is contingent on the type of maintenance or level of check being performed. An aircraft heavy maintenance visit may take days or weeks and involve hundreds of individual tasks. In such cases, work must be handed over from one shift to the next. Proper shift turnover helps ensure an aircraft’s airworthiness and the safety of technicians.
Effective shift turnover depends on three basic elements, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Human Factors Guide for Aviation Maintenance and Inspection:
- The outgoing worker’s ability to understand and communicate important elements of the job or task being turned over to the incoming worker.
- The incoming worker’s ability to understand and assimilate the information being provided by the outgoing worker.
- A formalized process for exchanging information between outgoing and incoming workers and a place for such an exchange to take place.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy shift turnover standards stress two important characteristics for effective turnover — ownership and formality.
- Ownership refers to the requirement for individual workers to assume personal responsibility for the tasks they are performing.
- Formality relates to the level of recognition for shift turnover procedures and exists when shift turnover procedures are part of written operating rules and managers and supervisors are committed to ensuring that cross-shift information is effectively delivered.
An effective process often will include shift turnover meetings between incoming and outgoing supervisors to discuss the general state of the facility and the status of all work. Supervisors from the departing shifts should also summarise any significant problems encountered and whether solutions were found.
Supervisors should then meet with the incoming and outgoing workers as a group to summarise the progress of the outgoing shift.
Walkthroughs enable individual technicians and inspectors to exchange information related to individual jobs or tasks. The FAA Human Factors Guide includes detailed information on what should be covered during walkthroughs, which, in general, should include the status of task, the work cards being used to complete the task, any problems encountered and the status of resolving those issues, any unusual occurrences and proposed next steps.
Effective communication is the key to an effective turnover. A common and serious mistake is an incoming worker assuming that the outgoing worker has completed a job when, in fact, he or she has not.