Can You Spot the Maintenance Dirty Dozen? Let’s Find Out

by Jennifer Caron, FAA Safety Briefing Copy Editor

We all make mistakes. That’s just human nature. But the reality we face in this industry is that aviation is terribly unforgiving of human error. Even a slight mistake can cause a fatal accident. That’s why it’s important to know the Dirty Dozen — the 12 common causes of mistakes in the aviation workplace. You need to recognize their warning signs, and most importantly, learn how to avoid or contain their effects. You’ll find the Dirty Dozen list at (PDF download).

Take our short quiz to see if you can identify some of the most common maintenance mishaps in the workplace. Good luck!

You’re working on the horizontal stabilizer leading edge and instruct your new coworker to move the stabilizer up using the trim switch. He actuates the trim switch to “nose up” and drives the leading edge into the maintenance stand. Was his mistake a result of:

A. Complacency
B. Distraction
C. A lack of communication

The answer is C. Communication between technicians is key, especially during procedures where more than one technician performs work on the aircraft. Never assume what a coworker will do or has done. Communicate the most important things in the beginning of the conversation and repeat them at the end. Use logbooks, checklists, or worksheets to remove any doubt.

Jill checks off an inspection checklist item because it’s not a critical component. She has never found any defects on all her previous inspections. Is this an example of:

A. Fatigue
B. Complacency
C. Lack of knowledge

The answer is B. Repetitive tasks, especially inspection items, are sometimes overlooked because they’ve been done so many times before without ever finding a fault. But don’t let down your guard; stay mentally engaged. Train yourself to expect to find errors, treat all inspection items with equal importance, use checklists, and never sign off on work you didn’t do.

You’re cutting and twisting safety wire and your cell phone rings. It’s your doctor with test results. You take the call and leave the floor. Your coworker steps in to complete the task and finds your safety wire pliers left behind, sitting on the engine. This scenario is the result of:

A. Distraction
B. Stress
C. Pressure

The answer is A and B. Distractions are everywhere in aviation maintenance, and they’re the number one cause of forgetting things. You can’t always prevent distractions but you can mitigate the effects by trying to finish the job, including the lock wire or torque seal. If you can’t complete the job, unfasten the connection, mark it as incomplete for the next tech, or go back three steps when you restart the task. Shadow your toolbox for quick inventory of all equipment before closing up panels, use checklists, and review all items that were touched/opened/removed. Stress is a factor here too. It can change your focus and emotional state in the blink of an eye. As a good practice, keep your cell phone off during maintenance and check it only on breaks.

Your boss tells you the aircraft must be done two days earlier than originally planned. Is this an example of:

A. Lack of communication
B. Stress
C. Pressure

The answer is C. Pressure to complete the task is always present in aviation. Don’t let pressure cloud your judgment or tempt you into lowering standards. Communicate your concerns or ask for help.

Did you pick all the right answers? Learning to recognize and combat the Dirty Dozen is an important step toward preventing errors and accidents. For more, check out the Dirty Dozen Course (ALC-107) or the Maintenance Error Avoidance course (ALC-327) at

Jennifer Caron is FAA Safety Briefing’s copy editor and quality assurance lead. She is a certified technical writer-editor in the FAA’s Flight Standards Service.

This article was originally published in the January/February 2021 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine.




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Official FAA safety policy voice for general aviation. Part of the national FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam).

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