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FAASTeam Notice
Type: Airworthiness
Notice Date: Friday, April 18, 2014
Notice Number: NOTC5107
Who Is To blame?
This notice expired on
                 “Blame” or “Understand”… the Choice is Yours 
Its morning and you are heading to work. You notice a car dodging and weaving recklessly in and out of traffic, cutting people off left and right. Your immediate reaction is to focus on the behavior. What a jerk! When perhaps there is more to the story.
Fundamental Attribution Error is an unjustified tendency to assume the guy you see speeding down the highway is a nut, and should not be allowed to drive because he is stupid, rather than ask why the person is behaving that way.    
This bias may cause us to blame people for actions that are unintended, and difficult to avoid. We may characterize these people as silly, thoughtless, incompetent, or reckless, when in truth, it could be the complex, confusing, or stressful context of the situation that influenced them to take the action and make a mistake.
In the case of the weaving car above, perhaps the driver is avoiding a loose car part in the road, or a bad pothole, a road hazard you may hit if you are not careful! 
When reading an accident report relating to incorrect or improper maintenance, what do we assume? Was the mechanic a bad mechanic? If you say yes, then the learning is over. After all, a good mechanic would never make a bad judgment call. On the other hand, if you assume that the mechanic is skilled, and has good judgment, then the question becomes, “What might have influenced this good mechanic to act in such a way that it caused an accident?” At that point, you will be investigating factors that might cause you to make that same mistake.
Once we place blame on a person, concentrating on the “who,” we often stop looking for the underlying reasons and miss the opportunity to learn the “why”. The question “why” deals with influences. Understanding these influences is such a subtle task that blaming will overpower understanding. Underlying reasons often sound like excuses, deflecting blame, or refusing to take responsibility. When learning of maintenance errors, you need to suspend your judgment long enough to understand the “why.”  This will point you to the situational influence that prompted the mistake, and will allow you to understand what might trip you up.
Your personal learning begins when you understand how the situation influenced the mechanic to make a mistake. 

National FAA Safety Team