Message Received…

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…or was it? Communication is at the heart of every aspect of our lives. We only have to consider our own domestic lives; we cannot exist functionally without talking to our family and friends, but unless you are very unique, this frequently results in miscommunications.

Applying the same thoughts to workplaces and safety critical situations, we can see how integral successful communication is. People give and receive instructions and guidance, verbally, in written documents, and probably by endless emails, just to mention some of the ways information is transferred. The human capacity to deal with all of this is quite amazing, but it is easy to see why, at times, we are overloaded and prone to error.

When investigating incidents, it is frequently found that a communication failure or problem has been a contributing factor. We all know that the Titanic sank because it hit an iceberg. Just think how all those 1500 lost lives would have been saved if Captain Smith had been given more information. There were communication failures before and after the ship hit the iceberg.

Moving on now to our present time when our capacity to communicate is almost unbelievable, yet failures still occur. Just in October this year, 189 people were killed in Indonesia with the crash of a Lyon Air Boeing 737 Max aeroplane. In every incident, there has to have been change, so what changed here? This was a brand-new plane.

The full incident analysis and report will not be available for some time yet, but early indications are that Boeing failed to inform operators of certain changes to the control systems of this latest version of the 737, the world’s most popular aeroplane. It also appears that on earlier flights on the same plane there were handling problems. The problem seems to have been around air speed and the anti-stall system, and it seems likely that the pilots were unaware; this important information had not been communicated.

This is an exceptionally sad incident. However, look at any incident of any type, even domestic incidents, and you find that something has changed. But also, in many cases, there has been a failure to communicate or perhaps, even simpler than that, instructions weren’t read or understood.

It cannot be overemphasised how important communication is, and yet we all still get it wrong at times. Effective communication has to be part of every risk assessment. Checking that information has been received and understood is equally critical.