Preventing Rusty Skills from Causing Injuries Post COVID-19
By Emily Wood
With a hiatus from everyday life throughout the past year and a half, it has become evident that proficiency in skills across all aspects of one’s life, from driving to using computer software found only in the office, even our ability to socialize in-person, decreases when done less. This idea highlights people and organizations cannot pick right back up from where they left off in early 2020. Failing to understand the unintended consequence of skill erosion that emerged as people battened down the hatches for months across the world, will increase preventable accidents and incidents in one’s personal life and across all levels of all organizations.
If there is one industry that has had to understand the added risks that accompany the restart of the economy, it is the aviation industry. As an industry that experiences cyclical demand, often determined by economic factors outside of their control, the aviation industry has had to safely rebuild and restore confidence for both employees and the traveling public many times before.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the number of global take-offs had dropped by 75% when compared to what was seen before the pandemic and thousands of pilots went months without any flight time either within an aircraft or a simulator. A report that was published by the Los Angeles Times in January 2021 highlighted there were already over a dozen reported incidents in NASA’s voluntary, ASRS (Aviation Safety Reporting System) database that indicated the errors made by a flight crew were attributed to their lack of practice as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic.
With economies restarting and many people being called back to work, a focus on ensuring compliance with standard operating procedures is required, along with removing the assumption one’s skillset is as sharp as it was before the pandemic. From forgetting to disengage the parking brake, resulting in damage to the aircraft’s towing vehicle, to forgetting to turn on the aircraft’s anti-icing system, pilots are beginning to acknowledge “they placed too much confidence in assuming their skills would come back to them as second nature (Wallace & Muntean, 2021).”
When checklists are not thoroughly read or one overestimates their ability to safely and successfully perform a task, the preventable active failures within a system can materialize into an incident or accident if lined up correctly with system weaknesses. While some pilots have started to acknowledge their skills diminished as they took time away from their job, we all must come to acknowledge this as well. It will take time and practice before we can reach the same level of skill we were at before the pandemic.
It’s not only Workplace Vigilance
As we return to pre-pandemic activities, skills once sidelined will be required for us to go about our everyday activities. While we do not have standard operating procedures or follow checklists for every activity, we must be attentive to the changes in the world around us and our ability to complete tasks individually and as a team, not only at our place of work, but while completing mundane, everyday activities we rarely thought much about before.
The Daily Commute
The once every day, simple task of driving to work has become dramatically more dangerous as stay-at-home orders transformed the once congested roads into empty freeways, enabling risky behavior that before, was not possible. Humans are inherently risk takers, but mixing our sometimes unrecognizable risk taking actions with overconfidence in our abilities, will result in an increase in preventable accidents and incidents. This idea was highlighted in the March 2021 National Safety Council Report as it indicated there has been a sharp increase of 8 percent in traffic-crash related deaths in 2020, the first increase in over 4 years even though 2.8 trillion less miles were driven.
For those of us who no longer had to make our daily commute to the office, appointments or other activities will be heading out onto the roads again, relying on eroded skills to manage the new ways of the road and again, manage the stress that accompanies being stuck in traffic. Gone are the mornings the pre-pandemic commutes to and from everyday activities was all but a memory, but also gone is the patience we used to have. Accustomed to empty roadways, now, before we’ve even made it into the office, we will have to navigate the busy roadways with eroded skills and weakened coping strategies for dealing with the stress of the road.
A Return to Everyday Activity
Understanding people take added risk everyday without thinking twice or even realizing a short-cut or misstep was taken, must be remembered as we return to our pre-pandemic lives. Extra vigilance must be maintained to allow for us individually, and our organizations to navigate the challenge of balancing safety with a quick return to everyday activities. We all need to work together, learn together and grow together to help ensure we go back home to the people we love.
Martin, H. (2021, February 02). Airline pilots making in-flight errors say they’re ‘rusty’ because of pandemic. Retrieved June 2, 2021, from https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2021-01-29/airline-pilots-flight-errors-pandemic
National Safety Council. (2021, March 4). Motor Vehicle Deaths in 2020 Estimated to be Highest in 13 Years, Despite Dramatic Drops in Miles Driven. Retrieved June 2, 2021, from https://www.nsc.org/newsroom/motor-vehicle-deaths-2020-estimated-to-be-highest
Wallace, G., & Muntean, P. (2021, February 04). Commercial pilots blame pandemic downtime for in-flight mistakes. Retrieved June 2, 2021, from https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/pilot-mistakes-pandemic-downtime/index.html