Handling the Handlers

Health and Safety Handling the Handlers By Richard Rowe March 2001 With one eye on industry outsourcing trends, the Health and Safety Executive in the U.K. is asking airlines to better monitor the health and safety performance of their growing...


Health and Safety

Handling the Handlers

By Richard Rowe

March 2001

With one eye on industry outsourcing trends, the Health and Safety Executive in the U.K. is asking airlines to better monitor the health and safety performance of their growing number of contractors. Richard Rowe reports.

Year

Fatal and Major

Over 3 Day

Total number of accidents

1997 to 1998

152

1,112

1,264

1998 to 1999

166

1,164

1,330

1999 to 2000
(provisional)

154

1,241

1,395

The U.K.’s powerful Health and Safety Executive (HSE), a government agency charged with controlling the risk to people from work activities, is spearheading a drive aimed at encouraging the air transport industry to improve its health and safety record.

According to the HSE, the air transport industry compares poorly with other so-called high-risk occupations. Ramp workers, it says, are more likely to be seriously injured than agricultural workers and are at almost the same risk of minor injuries as those in the mining industry.

With this in mind, the HSE published new guidance in December aimed at improving health and safety considerations specifically during aircraft turnround. The document, "Aircraft Turnround: A guide for airport and aerodrome operators, airlines and service providers on achieving control, co-operation and co-ordination (HSG209)" includes advice on the roles and responsibilities of the companies involved, the selection, control and monitoring of contractors, and the organization of the turnround itself.

The guidance is a key element in an ongoing HSE initiative that has seen the agency hammer home its message at industry conferences, as well as visits to companies by HSE inspectors.

"Whilst the U.K. has an enviable record of aircraft safety, the health and safety of those working around the aircraft is a grave cause for concern," according to Bob Meldrum, Head of the HSE's Docks, Water and Air Transport Unit. "The industry is not able to rely solely on 'hardware' solutions to solve its safety problems and so needs to rely on safe systems of work. Consequently, it is vital that these are both adequate and robust and that management ensures that they are implemented and maintained."

The fact remains that serious accidents during aircraft turnround are all too common. The HSE cites one instance where a baggage truck reversed over a fuel hydrant pit, severing the coupling. Several thousand liters of fuel were spilled, workers and aircraft were doused in fuel, and the operation of the airport was badly affected.

Elsewhere, a ramp worker suffered a broken leg when he was trapped between a reversing cargo loader and a baggage dolly. The loader was routinely used to "shuttle" baggage from dollies to the aircraft. It was not designed for the job and offered poor visibility for the driver. However, as the HSE discovered, this was the only way to get the job done because the operation had not been properly planned. With the congested area at the rear of the aircraft, there was no space to bring the dollies into the right position for the work to be carried out safely.

With this in mind, the guidelines are designed to provide an effective framework encouraging airlines, handling agents, and airport operators to work in partnership to reduce the risks faced by staff.

The agency’s guidance states that companies that employ contractors to undertake all or part of the operation should satisfy themselves that the organizations in question can carry out the turnround safely. The HSE stresses the need for operations to be planned and supervised. The plan should be written down, and the supervisor (either a handling agent or some other appointed person or company) should have sufficient authority to control the activities around the aircraft, says the HSE.

All parties need to cooperate and coordinate their activities during turnround. Each company involved must assess and control the risks its activities pose to others; this includes the airlines, airport operator and the ground handlers.

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