Don't Wing It

Fall protection tips for aircraft maintenance


No matter what type of aircraft a mechanic is working on — prop or jet, private or commercial, narrow- or wide-bodied plane — work surfaces are sloped and slippery, intensifying fall hazards. Even if this is the hundredth time a worker has performed the same job, the worker must be aware of the surroundings. It only takes one slip or misstep for a fall to occur.

Whether conducting a routine maintenance check or carrying out a repair job, a fall protection system must be in place anytime you are working on an aircraft surface more than a few feet off the ground. Even if it’s a routine repair that will only take a few minutes to complete, and the risk of falling seems improbable — think again. It only takes a second for a fall to occur.

Depending upon the application, OSHA mandates fall protection when working on surfaces elevated by more than 4 or 6 feet. There are multiple fall protection solutions for the aviation industry to ensure maintenance and repair tasks are completed efficiently and most importantly, safely. Below are tips to help select the best-suited fall protection solutions for applications in the aviation industry.

Choose the right equipment
Workers should always use fall protection equipment that is lightweight, comfortable, compact, and mobile.

There are three parts to a personal fall protection system: anchorage, body support, and connector. The anchorage is a vital part of any fall protection system and many options are available to suit the location of the aircraft, whether parked on the tarmac or in a hangar.

A full-body harness distributes fall arrest forces to the upper thighs, pelvis, chest, and shoulders. When selecting a harness, consider the worker’s comfort and time spent wearing the harness, as well as the application and environment. A comfortable harness has padding and lining, as well as adjustment points on the legs, waist, chest, and shoulders. Breathable lining that wicks moisture away from the body helps workers stay dry and comfortable in hot or cold weather.

There are two main connector options to connect the anchorage to the harness: lanyards and self-retracting lifelines (SRLs). If a task requires more mobility, the worker should use an SRL. A shock-absorbing lanyard can be used when less mobility is required. A shock-absorbing lanyard limits the fall arrest forces exerted on the body in the event of a fall. In order to prevent scratching the plane’s surface, workers should use harnesses and connectors with covered hardware elements and a web loop in place of the back D-ring.

Permanent overhead systems
The best solution for almost all types of aircraft maintenance work is tying off to a permanent overhead engineered system. There are two basic types of permanent overhead systems: a cable system and a horizontal rail system. A cable system is strung horizontally across hangar roof beams and supported by intermediate brackets spaced evenly to help distribute the forces of a fall. The shuttle, the element that moves along the line, can navigate intermediate brackets, allowing the system to be engineered in a virtually unlimited array of configurations.

Cable systems are usually limited to large aircraft with increased fall clearance because in the event of a fall, the cable will dip slightly where the weight of the worker is deflected on the line.

Unlike cable systems, horizontal rail systems are desirable for both large and small aircraft. These rigid systems are also fixed to overhead support structures, but a partially sealed aluminum rail with a trolley that moves within it serves as the anchor, rather than a flexible cable. The rigid overhead anchorage point allows horizontal rail systems to be used for small aircraft with less fall clearance. Both systems can be engineered to span the needed length.

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