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Human Factors and CRM is just Common Sense – or not?
One thing often stated in CRM training is that Human Factors and CRM is just “common sense”. In one sense this is both a rewarding statement and a bit of a problematic one. It is rewarding since it seems to reflect an acceptance of HF/CRM and its underlying knowledge. It is at the same time problematic since it also seems to reflect that this is something we all know anyway and to not need to think about too much.
The phrase “it is just common sense” is at times a dangerous one. Once upon a time it was common sense that the world was flat and anyone saying something else would be considered in short supply of common sense. In more modern times “common sense” is often used to motivate positions on issues that are under-informed or even contrary to the knowledge built by experience and science. Even in a more positive context, invoking common sense can be linked to a dismissal of information and knowledge since “everyone knows” about what is said and there is no point in talking about it. Unfortunately it is probably a true statement about common sense that it is like a deodorant – the people who need it the most never use it.
It may be good to remember that a lot of HF/CRM that is now integrated in training of pilots and operations was far from common sense not long ago. The birth of CRM is accredited to the 1979 NASA conference “Resource Management on the Flight Deck”, where in the light of a number of tragic accidents in the 70s the principles and focus of CRM was laid down. At that time no one talked about SA at all, very little about workload management and stress (did not affect pilots was the belief), decision making was whatever the captain chose to do and good communication and leadership simple came from the captain regardless of how he actually conducted himself. Still it took decades for HF/CRM to become accepted and practised to the level we see today in the industry. The number of lives unnecessarily lost in accidents during these and previous decades should serve as a reminder that the knowledge and experience of CRM we have in the industry today was far from common sense not long ago.
The fact that CRM skills are widely accepted among professional pilots today is of course something that is to be celebrated – it is the result of many years of development in the industry and has contributed to the high levels of safety we see today. However, saying that it is “just” common sense is at risk of trivialising hard-earned lessons from accidents, incidents, operational experience and science. So let us all think a bit before saying this, not because it is wrong, but because we should be careful with getting it right.