The Normalization of Deviance
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 CAMERON G. ROXERRY
1-25th Attack Battalion, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade
Fort Wainwright, Alaska
“What do you mean they sling-loaded an Apache from the ceiling?” That was the response from most Army Aviation professionals as the news broke around the hangar. Few organizations are less forgiving to complacency than Army Aviation — both in the sense of monetary loss and danger to human safety. For this reason, at all times, we must remain uncompliant to the status quo of complacency and the normalization of deviance.
Mike Mullane, a former NASA astronaut, describes the normalization of deviance as “the natural human tendency, particularly in pressure circumstances, to want to take shortcuts; to accept a lower standard of performance. To rationalize in pressure situations that I can’t execute to meet these standards I’ve been trained to meet, I have to take a shortcut.” He goes on to summarize that it’s natural for humans to rationalize their lack of ability to perform to standard during these times.
So what does that mean for Army Aviation? In the short term, taking shortcuts may not have immediate consequences. However, it will lead to a culture of normalizing deviance throughout the organization. This deviance may be unapparent at first, resulting in temptation to repeat the action because of the I-got-away-with-it-last-time mentality. This reinforces that deviation from standard operating procedures, checklists, manuals and safety procedure is not a grave risk with even higher consequences. This thought process can ultimately cause a deadly chain of events.
Accidents are rarely a single event. Rather, they are made up of several smaller incidents that by themselves wouldn’t cause a catastrophic event. When these chain of events take place, it creates a recipe for disaster. So how do we combat this within our organizations? By enforcing the highest level of personal responsibility, holding ourselves accountable to the standard and not allowing our teammates to operate under a culture of deviance from that standard. It is every Soldier’s responsibility to not allow rationalizations for shortcuts.
Pictured above is the result of shortcuts and the repeated loop of deviating from the standard. During this event, maintainers on a phase team ended work late on a Friday and decided it wouldn’t be a big deal to leave the aircraft’s rotor head attached to the hangar crane until work could resume Monday morning. When Monday arrived, the team had forgotten about the aircraft attached to the crane. With a high operational tempo and increased demand on maintenance, the team began operating the crane without first visually identifying the status. The crane was commanded to slew across the hangar, resulting in the unintentional lifting and damage to the aircraft. Luckily, there were no injuries and the damage was limited to a single aircraft.
The takeaway from this incident was there were multiple opportunities to prevent it had the maintainers followed procedures. For example, the crane should have been stored properly at the end of the work day. The team signing out the equipment should have inspected the machine before operating it. Also, a spotter should have been implemented prior to crane operation. All of these were simple acts that would have helped avert this accident, but the culture of normalizing deviance of the standard ultimately led to thousands of dollars in damage. Lessons learned
To create a safe and successful organization that ensures combat readiness, all service members must demonstrate courageous self-leadership. Challenge yourself to be better every single day and hold others around you to the same. Mike Mullane goes on to say, “The success and safety we enjoy is not through luck, it’s not written in the stars, it’s not destiny. Personal and professional success flows from courageous self-leadership.” It’s the ability for every member of our team to hold themselves accountable and demand that others do as well. It is our responsibility to prevent accident chains at the earliest point possible.
Listen to that tiny voice that tells you something is wrong. Be courageous enough to speak up. We are all able to stop an accident chain. Actively combat complacency and normalizing deviations from standards. As British pilot Capt. A.G. Lamplugh famously said, “Aviation is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of carelessness, incapacity or neglect.”