It is a new year, and we have a fresh new outlook on safety. While our next topic may not be as exciting as Santa’s sleigh, it is equally important. We will be examining the human factors in FMEA, which are often the hardest to define due to the uniqueness of every individual. Engineers can make the ride as safe as possible from a design standpoint, but they also must consider the risks associated with the guests, operators, and maintenance personnel which behave far less consistently than any machine does.
The main human factors in FMEA are focused on the operators or mechanics and how their actions can lead to a hazard during the normal operation of the ride. The personnel operating and maintaining your rides can contribute immensely to the risk of failure regardless of age, experience, and personality. It is important to not only identify the risk factors in FMEA but to mitigate them. Even with procedures in place the human risk factor can change daily, depending on the operator and their mood, and depending on the rider. Each different aspect brings slightly different risks. Mechanical safety measures are built into attractions as an attempt to lower the chance of human error, however there are some scenarios where human factor is unavoidable.
Experience of Operator/Mechanic
The general assumption when performing an FMEA has always been that the more experienced you are, the lower the risk. The same goes for attractions. The more experienced the operator or mechanic is the more likely they will be able to spot any safety concerns and attend to them, in turn, lowering the risk. However, with the ongoing advancements in technology being implemented in the amusement industry it is sometimes difficult to quantify how experience benefits when it comes to risk reduction. Older rides sometimes require a certain hands-on finesse and expertise to identify risks, while newer rides rely on a more technically savvy “hands-off” approach to achieve the same result.
FMEA’s have historically relied on experienced operators and mechanics as a risk mitigation factor, but what happens when these experienced personnel are not available? With many new parks opening all over the world it can be argued that experience is not something that is guaranteed and thus difficult to rely on as a mitigation factor. If this is the case, then what can we use in our FMEA to mitigate the risks involved with experience?
Training! Proper training is not the only key to developing experience from square one, but also to ensure that the experience passed down from veteran operators and mechanics is consistent with the manufacturer’s intentions. With proper training guidelines the experience of the operator or mechanic, while helpful, should not have as much of an impact in reducing risk as proper training approved by the manufacturer does. Because of this, it should be the training that is considered as the mitigating factor of risk and not the experience!
Personality of the Operator/Mechanic
As a rider, you would hope that all mechanics and operators treat their job with the same seriousness and focus; however, as we know in any workplace, that is not always the case. Personality can play into the risk factors through attention to detail and organized thinking in an emergency. There is also a certain level of complacency that comes with the repetitive task of operating and inspecting rides. In addition to this, everyone has bad days, and the headspace that an operator or mechanic is in can increase or mitigate risk significantly.
The best way to mitigate risk in situations such as this is redundancy. Having multiple operators and mechanics involved in the operation process helps reduce risk as hazards are far more likely to be caught if more than one set of eyes are on them. While controls systems are designed for redundancy, rides and attractions will always have some reliance on the operators and maintenance personnel for safety. By increasing the number of people involved in the operations and maintenance procedures we can reduce the risk of hazards stemming from lack of attention from the person regardless of the reason.
Rides and attractions are required to be looked at each day by inspectors. A manufacturer’s maintenance manual has daily, weekly, monthly, and annual maintenance requirements that must be followed by the owner of the ride. ASTM F770 requires that checklists and records be completed ensuring that the maintenance has been completed. Depending on the inspector, the level of thoroughness and correctness of the inspection, and thus risk, can vary greatly.
There are a variety of tools and methods that manufacturers and park owners can use and implement to ensure the quality of an inspector’s inspection. Starting off with tools, manufacturers often provide “go/no go gauges” for inspectors to use. This allows an inspector to easily place the gauge to verify that clearances or other critical dimensions are still maintained. Making tasks simpler and objective (getting rid of the subjectivity of measurements) for the technician helps to ensure the task is completed correctly.
As tablets and smartphones have become mainstream in the world for the past decade and a half, many parks have adopted these technologies into their maintenance routines. Technicians are often given a tablet or smartphone to carry with them during their inspections. The device doubles as the maintenance checklist and can be loaded with instructional videos showing how to perform the inspection. To ensure that an item is being checked, QR codes can be placed at the inspection point that the inspector must scan to check the item off the list.
In addition to all these checklists, a maintenance inspection logbook is another fantastic way of keeping track of inspection data and other things that a checklist might not cover. Typically, multiple shifts of different mechanics will perform maintenance on a ride every single day, and having a logbook that notes potential issues, causes of problems, what was repaired or replaced, and a summary of the daily routine will create a paper trail that can be referred to by all staff involved.
Guest safety around attraction
It is often said within the industry that guests leave their minds at the gate when they enter the theme park. Guests expect a park to be completely safe and for them to be in no danger no matter their actions. We agree with the park and its attractions needing to be completely safe, but it does not just happen automatically. It is up to the designer to make it happen. When performing a FMEA, the designer/engineer must design around a guest with no common sense or self-awareness. To put it simply, if there is an opening allowing a guest to walk into an area they are not supposed to or put their hands in a pinch point, it must be assumed that a guest will do such a thing. These hazards must be designed out, especially in areas where guest flow is unmonitored such as queues and pathways.
Guests also do not always know how to navigate their way through and around ride vehicles while loading. It is a common issue that the gaps between ride vehicles are open when in the loading station, and sometimes guests do not understand that crossing through these gaps can result in severe injury. There are ways to mitigate this risk through signage, however it is assumed industry wide that all signs go ignored or are treated as suggestions by guests. Ride designers can design vehicles in a way to prevent this as well, but due to the articulation requirements of each specific ride, this is not always possible. The biggest way to combat situations such as this is by carefully monitoring the guests as they board the vehicles, communicating with them if they have any concerns and issues, and understanding that what might be an obvious safety risk to an operator is not as obvious to your typical park-goer.
In conclusion, while human factors play a significant role in FMEA they will always be some of the most difficult risks to mitigate due to the inherent uniqueness of all individuals. Technology can be implemented to bring down the probability and occurrence of such risks, but eliminating the risk is more difficult to accomplish than what can be done with a purely mechanical system. Ironically, it is humans that can do the best job of mitigating hazards relating to human factors through the implementation of training, redundancy, and experience. In any case, it is up to the designer/engineer to clearly provide parks human factor mitigation strategies to aid in safely operating the ride.