In the maintenance business, the hazards are not in the day-to-day flight operations, but in the routine of performing our jobs
By Jim Sparks
A form of the statement "Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous, it is, however, very unforgiving" is found hanging on the walls of many flight departments accompanying a picture of an early aircraft hanging precariously from tree limbs. Most of us realize the fears tied to our industry and in many ways, due to the efforts of the aircraft maintenance community, aviation is, without doubt, the safest way to travel.
For those of us in the maintenance business, the hazards are not in the day-to-day flight operations but in the routine of performing our jobs. The technical support of aircraft involves exposure to harmful chemicals, potentially lethal electrical shocks, and rapidly moving components. Hazards can even arise from extending aid to a fellow worker who may be injured. Working as an electrician, I have had the opportunity to see the effects of electrical shock as well as the disfiguration that accompanies the welding of a wedding ring to an electrical contactor. I have also learned first-hand the benefit of a properly installed high-tension ignition lead tester.
Definition of "hazard"
A hazard is defined as "danger of loss" or "peril" and manifest themselves in many forms including sharp items that could inflict stab wounds or cuts; heavy objects that could roll over; devices that could fall; heat; cold; light; radiation; flying objects; shocks; and frequent exposure to chemicals or dangerous materials including harmful dust or vapors; and of course, motion hazards are always present. Situational awareness is the one factor that will greatly reduce workplace injuries.
Something as simple as replacing a starter generator on an engine or Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) could turn out to be a career-altering event. Some think, "How could something so day-to-day be considered a potential hazard?" First of all, there is the possibility for electrical shock if adequate precautions are not made to disable the aircraft electrical power system. There is, of course, the starter generator itself — many weigh around 80 lbs. and if not properly lifted, could result in back strain or even a hernia. Once this dead weight is lifted, the potential for dropping it exists. Not only will this put the lower extremities of the installer at risk, but anyone assisting in the replacement is also in harm’s way. This operation may also expose those involved to engine oil, another would-be hazard.
For any accident to occur, two factors need to be present: a potential hazard and a potential victim. Being constantly vigilant of our surroundings will have a significant impact in reducing the likelihood of becoming a victim. Proper preparation for any assignment or task should involve consideration of what could go wrong. One documented case exists where an avionics technician was assigned the job of replacing the flightdeck microphone plugged into the co-pilots control column. What could possibly go wrong? On the way to the cockpit, the technician walked past the external hydraulic power unit connected to the aircraft. Once the technician was seated in the co-pilots seat and had tracked it fully aft to facilitate bending over to gain access to the plug, the unexpected happened. The other technicians who had just received their assignments after shift change, activated the hydraulic power unit causing the flight control column to move aft; pinning the technician in such a way that he could not apply a forward force to free himself. Although no permanent injuries resulted, the avionics technician was off work for several days with back spasms.
Why did this happen? In this case, it is evident that the avionics technician expected someone to verify an "All Clear" before hydraulics were applied and the technician applying the external hydraulic power had no idea that someone was working in the aircraft. Could this situation have been avoided?
Even the simplest task in aircraft maintenance will involve some element of risk. These risks can be significantly reduced with a bit of consideration before performing the job. Safeguards are the key and are available in the form of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
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