Safety from a Ramp Worker’s Perspective

Safety is sometimes taken for granted. This should never happen; it should be a lifestyle. In this article, I want to discuss the way we at the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) think about safety.

Frequent checks
Working on the ramp at American Airlines in Chicago has its challenges. Using weekly safety compliancy checks, we look at how ramp crews work inbound and outbound flights, focusing on helping ramp workers perform their jobs safely. These checks also bring to light any hazards that may arise. After each check, a TWU safety steward discusses the outcome with the ramp crews for which the safety check was just performed, highlighting areas that need to be refreshed and complimenting areas that are performed correctly. American Airlines also performs compliancy checks that blanket the TWU checks. Their compliancy checks cover different points of view, allowing us to cover all aspects and avoid having any hazards fall through the cracks. The compliancy checks from both the TWU and American are used as a teaching tool to help ramp crews work more safely.

Another safety program is the weekly TWU non-powered safety checks. These checks target areas on non-powered equipment such as bag carts, ULD dollies, ULDs and tow-bars that could cause injury to anyone using them. We also perform weekly TWU powered safety checks. These checks target areas of powered equipment such as tractors, push-out tugs, cargo veyors and ULD loaders, as well as other forms of powered equipment. Working with the automotive department, we remove the equipment from service and have it repaired in a timely manner, thus eliminating a hazard from the ramp area.

Through safety walks, which I perform with management and other unions, we talk with pilots, look for FOD, identify potential hazards on the ramp and refresh veteran crews on safety issues. Speaking with the veteran crews allows them to communicate any safety concerns they have while on the ramp. These are just a few examples of the programs Local 512 safety stewards and I perform weekly.

Communication is a big part of our safety program. With the use of the TWU’s Local Web site, which you can access at in the workplace or at home, our president posts a weekly message as well as safety topics on the “Hot News” link. Other topics of interest also may be accessed on this link. One example is “Safety Alerts.” These alerts, which we receive from American Airlines, provide important safety tips. They are also posted in high employee-traffic areas such as bus stops, vending machine rooms, locker rooms, time clocks and gate-ready rooms. The alerts cover other departments, not just the ramp, and allow for quick reference.

With the help of “Partnership For Safety,” which is a joint effort between management, unions and employees, we focus on personal safety at home and work to prevent injuries. Through monthly PFS meetings, we communicate with all departments. I would like to touch briefly on some of the meetings and my involvement.

The first is the Joint Safety Committee or JSC, to which I bring safety concerns from the ramp that need to be addressed. The committee is attended by employees from all departments and reports to the Central Safety Committee. Next is the Central Safety Committee, to which I bring any safety concerns from the JSC that need the help of the city or contractors to complete. The committee is attended by department heads and is chaired by the station vice president of American Airlines.

I also attend the Investigative Committee where we discuss injury reports from all departments. We look for root causes as to why there was an injury. Finally, I attend the Policy and Procedures Committee where we look at root causes from the Investigative Committee and discuss policy and procedure changes that help prevent injuries in the future.

Education plays a strong role in safety at TWU and American. With the help of local management, we made safety videos to show proper operation of ramp equipment as well as helpful safety tips. Through new-hire class orientations, I discuss the importance of always being aware of your surroundings. I also speak about the use of sunscreens while working the ramp and proper PPE, or personal protecting equipment. Finally, we discuss the changing weather conditions.

Weathering the challenges
In Chicago, we are faced with extreme weather conditions throughout all four seasons, especially summer and winter. To help keep ramp crews hydrated in the summer heat, working with management and with help from a sports drink company, we created “O’Hare Oasis,” a truck specially equipped with coolers. On extremely hot days, this truck is driven in the ramp areas to provide cold water, as well as sports drinks, to anyone working the ramp. In addition, to avoid heat stress, management and TWU Local 512 worked with the City of Chicago to place an exemption on their city ordinance which covers safety vests on the ramp.

This exemption allows ramp workers to wear an orange reflective t-shirt as an alternative during the summer months. As for winter weather, we currently use a variety of styles of gloves, hats, boots and outer jackets and are always testing new products to further protect our ramp workers in extreme cold conditions.

The future of ramp safety
As for future plans, we are currently testing wireless headset communications while on pushback of departing aircraft. We are also testing “bum caps,” which are baseball-style hats with a hard outer shell for our facilities maintenance mechanics to prevent head injuries while working the baggage system. One of the most exciting plans is the “belly cooler.” This is an extension that comes off the pre-conditioned air hose and allows air, be it cool in the summer or warm in the winter, to be pumped into the belly area of the aircraft where ramp workers load baggage and cargo.These are just a few examples of the many plans we are currently working on to make the ramp a safer place to work.

As a result of the topics I have detailed in this article, we in Chicago have reduced our injuries by more than 30 percent from 2004 through 2006. In closing, I want to share with you my safety statement:

S = Secure a healthy future for our customers and employees.
A = Attention to your surroundings in the workplace and at home.
F = Face safety issues head on and commit to finding a solution.
E = Educate one another on working and living safer.
T = Teamwork from everyone to keep safety at the forefront.
Y = Yield a workplace free from injuries.