Personal Protection

The good news is that according to the U.S. Department of Labor, aviation technicians are not on the list of “Most Hazardous Careers.” In fact it goes on to say our “work is not inherently dangerous” yet yields job-related injuries that are only somewhat higher than similar professions.

Considering risks in our industry include exposure to hazardous materials, weather, electrical shock, burns, motion hazards, and horrendous noise levels we as a profession appear to cover ourselves admirably. In recent times programs such as safety management systems (SMS) have come to light with the intent of further reducing the risks that encompass the work we do.

Avionics specialists, at least in my generation, were the guys perceived to have clean hands spending most of their days in an air-conditioned shop with paper cuts being about as bad as it gets in the work-related injury category.

Hindsight is a word that pretty much always describes an event that was avoidable and in our industry the results are almost always expensive and potentially hazardous. Risk management has been a fact of life and in many cases is practiced unconsciously. When we think about potential hazards prior to undertaking a project, methods, techniques, and protective gear can be utilized to minimize risks. Like all skills, assessing hazards and risks requires ongoing refinement and the only way to achieve competency is through practice and repetition.

Workplace violence

Workplace violence has either directly or indirectly impacted about one-half of the work force in the United States. Aviation maintenance is a profession notorious for exposure to stressful situations; it generally has devastating and often long-term results including physical or emotional injury and can affect the morale of employees not directly involved in the encounter. This is frequently predictable and can be diffused when warning signs are heeded. Most cases are a result of elevated stress levels awaiting a trigger such as prolonged harassment or perceived bullying and have been known to trigger violent retaliatory strikes. Other prompts include feelings of unfairness, a situation getting out of control, and “it’s personal.”

Most people who commit a violent act in the workplace will advertise it in advance through words and actions. Employees in tune with their co-workers should alert supervisors when a colleague is exhibiting abnormal personality traits and all warning signs should be taken seriously. In most of the cases ending in tragedy, ample forewarning was exhibited but either not reported or not acted on.

It is important for organizations to have workplace violence policies in place and ensure all employees have a clear understanding of necessary actions.

Hand and wrist injuries

Most of us entrusted to ensuring airworthiness have learned our profession requires use of the mind as well as the hands. Researchers have determined that hand and wrist injuries are the most costly. Not only do they require significant funds for treatment but the loss of productivity of a skilled person can be detrimental not only to the employee but the employer as well.

Wrist damage can occur over time and does not necessarily require any one traumatic event. Improper ergonomics while at a computer keyboard or test bench may cause progressive deterioration resulting in carpal tunnel syndrome.

In our trade it is not uncommon for hands or fingers to get in the way of tools or machinery resulting in pain and suffering. Awareness of risks can often enable the potential victim to prepare in advance with proper hand protection. Gloves are multifaceted protection and are fabricated from a variety of materials based on the hazard for which they will protect. Gloves provide safeguards against thermal conditions, chemicals, and even mechanical hazards. Using the proper type in conjunction with a good fit is essential.

Sunlight and cancer

Many of us get to enjoy life in the outdoors while plying our trade and those working during daylight hours get to benefit from the psychological as well as physical benefits of sunshine. There are drawbacks. Current statistics show that about 20 percent of the population in the United States will have to deal with some form of skin cancer and 98 percent will be successfully treated.

An alarming fact is many people do not know how to detect skin cancer. Proper examination for signs on the surface of the skin is an effective precaution when conducted by a dermatologist. Changes in skin texture or variance in freckles or moles are worth investigation. The best defense here is prevention of exposure which can be accomplished by clothing accompanied by sun screens.

Heat and chemical exposure

Skin is also sensitive to thermal conditions and chemical exposure. The ability to absorb various substances will further the risk with potential life-threatening results. Proper precaution prior to exposure is the best defense plus awareness of neutralizing the hazard and first aid to counter the effects and to remedy discomfort.

In some cases chemical exposure can be difficult to predict such as with laundering of shop towels which can yield detectable amounts of heavy metals while dry cleaning substances are known to cause allergic reactions in some people. In addition perspiration on the skin can contribute to the possibility of electrical shock under certain circumstances.

Proper protection

Determining how to protect employees from on the job hazards is not always as easy as simply reading Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. In fact in our world it is common to have to be protected from several hazards at any given time and in some cases if the proper protection is not employed serious consequences may result. Numerous reports of hearing protection being sucked into turbine engines have been generated over the years.

Assessing the risks encountered in the workplace should be approached as a team effort and OSHA regulations make a good starting point. Site specific conditions as identified by employees need to be considered when deciding on types of personal protective equipment (PPE) to employ. All PPE must be not only comfortable but compatible with other equipment donned under various conditions.

Employing safety equipment is also an important part of risk management in our world. Recently Master Lock has launched a line of devices referred to as “Aviation Safety Lockout” which is designed specifically for lock out tag out on aircraft.

Based on data collected by the Centers for Disease Control, the most common cause of requests for emergency care were related to: falls, being struck either by objects or vehicles, cutting tools, overexertion, and strenuous activity. Interestingly enough these conditions we experience in the workplace often occur as well in the home which most likely means: a keen ability to mitigate risk will have an all around positive impact (or lack thereof).

Avionics repair and maintenance does pose many challenges and includes exposure to numerous hazards. Keep in mind, we are all responsible for our own well-being and situational awareness is an important element in personal protection.

One who works with his hands is a laborer; one who works with his hands and his mind is a craftsman; but one who works with his hands, his mind, and his heart is a true asset. AMT


Currently when not writing for AMT, Jim Sparks is the manager of aviation maintenance for a private company with a fleet including light single engine aircraft, helicopters, and several types of business jets. You can reach him at

Jim Sparks has been in aviation for 30 years and is a licensed A&P. His career began in general aviation as a mechanic, electrician, and avionics technician.