Ramp Safety

The GS Reader's Forum goes to the front lines of the ground support industry to get feedback on different topics relevant to ground support equipment and ground handling.

Q: Some believe Ramp Safety is a great concern that should be addressed. Others believe that Ramp Safety has gotten better but there have never been any benchmarks to prove it. Is there a way we can address the fact that this issue seems to be looming out there?

Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge
Managing Director, American Airlines - St. Louis' Hub

The issue of ramp safety consistently looms in this industry as an ongoing topic of concern. I have spent 22 years working in the operational side of aviation, and in my opinion, I have seen safety improve dramatically over the past two decades. I think both employers and employees are more aware than ever of the environment to which they are exposed on a daily basis and the possible hazards that surround it when one is not careful. It would be a great story to say this industry has been accident free from any ramp-related injury or accident in the past twelve months, however, I think we all know the possibility of that happening is probably small to none. What I think we can say as an industry, is that our approach to ramp safety, our awareness of the dangers and the education to employees has definitely improved in recent years. Not only are the regulations continually getting tighter, but also the need to reduce costs is more prevalent than ever and all the carriers have been forced to work smarter and safer.

Industrial injuries and ramp lost time consumes hundreds of millions of dollars each year from this industry. In today's competitive world, if companies have not addressed the issue of safety and the associated costs that go hand in hand, they will not survive this critical period. This issue goes far beyond caring for your employee's well being, it touches the simple fact that if safety and injuries are not addressed and costs continue to skyrocket, there will be no company and no employee to get injured. This industry realized the dilemma years ago and has diligently been working to improve. And personally, safety on the ramp and employee's awareness of the dangers surrounding them if they are not careful is better now than it has ever been!

Larry Laney
Director Ground Support, Southwest Airlines

In early February, the Airport Operations Safety Panel (AOSP) again warned airport operation executives, airlines and ground handing companies that the number of accidents and incidents on air operations area (AOA) across the country requires attention, and recommended nationwide standards for ground operations be created and adopted. There are several areas of concern pertaining to ramp safety:

Ramp Congestion: Airlines continue to add more flights and regional jets requiring additional ground equipment while trying to reduce turn times. This is creating a situation for additional accidents and runway incursions.

Training/Turnover: Most accidents are caused by human error and not following proper procedures. Training is a critical part of ramp safety. If the equipment used on the ramp were used on public roads, (pushback tractors, deicing trucks, container loaders, fuel trucks, etc.) you would certainly be required to have a special license or permit.

Cell Phones and Entertainment Devices: With increased use of cell phones and entertainment devices such as MP3 players, busy airport ramp operations is definitely not a place that needs any more distractions.

Equipment Condition: As Fleet Managers, it is our responsibility to provide our internal customers with a safe and reliable piece of equipment. First class prevention maintenance programs are expensive. Again, with the industry conditions, we need to ensure that all operators at our airports are properly maintaining their equipment.

So is safety really a major issue for our Industry? Is there a disaster looming out there? I think Ramp Safety has continued to improve over the years and as long as airports, airlines, ground handlers and equipment manufacturers continue to share information and best safety practices, ramp safety will keep improving. If the industry tries to cut corners with training or preventative maintenance of ground equipment, there could be a disaster looming.

Safety is everyone's responsibility from the airports to the airlines to the ground handlers, down to each individual working on the AOA. At Southwest we have a very aggressive safety program which virtually includes frontline employees from each operational department and location. There is no such thing as too much communication when it comes to safety. After all, we are trying our best to protect our most prized possessions, our employees, our assets and our customers. To quote Barry Brown, our director, corporate safety and environment, 'The more we talk about safety, the less we will talk about accidents and injuries.' This quote holds true to our entire Industry.

Kevin Paddick
Facility Manager, British Airways

As someone who has to deal with health and safety matters on a daily basis, I am very surprised that nobody has taken the time to benchmark this particular area to determine if standards are improving or if due to more frequent aircraft movements people working in and around the ramp are being put under more stress and subsequently more risk. I always thought that it was imperative that all areas or processes be ''Risk Assessed.' If this is the case especially around the ramp operation then why couldn't these be used as pre-determined benchmarks as for the industry as a whole to work too?

The airport authorities themselves should assist in this also. By this I mean that whilst they are trying to increase airline traffic at both international and domestic airports this in turn reduces the amount of space available for the innumerable ground equipment items required to support them on a day-to-day basis. It will only be a matter of time before this problem, if not dealt with by a focused determined group, gets to a stage that it will cost millions to resolve. The information gained from any risk assessments or studies should be shared between all parties worldwide, therefore eliminating the risk not only to the people working within the area, but also going along way to improving the efficiency of the airports.

This is not about standing still and just surmising the area has gotten better, we should be actively promoting health and safety for all who work within the industry.

Brian Wood
VP Operations, Airport Terminal Services Inc.

I can only speak for ATS but all the stats we track related to safety have shown a steady improvement year after year. This trend has been constant for more than seven years. I can't speak to the industry. There may be more incidents now than a few years ago but you have to look at it against frequency and bring it to an apples to apples relationship. On a per flight basis or on an hours worked basis has the ratio improved? The raw count of occurrences may be up but has there been more flights worked or more hours worked? That is the trend with ATS but I have no facts to base an opinion on outside of our company. I know NATA, through the Airline Services Council is working on collecting this data through a third party to establish some industry baselines. It has been difficult getting industry information as everyone hesitates to share their statistics outside of their own company. The third party involvement will sanitize the data so it can be shared for everyone's benefit. You can then get some meaningful measurements of the industry to compare your own stats to. I think that is an exciting step that all companies can benefit from.

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