Ramp It Up On Safety

May 9, 2014
Employ the five-second rule: Before you begin a task ask yourself what harm or damage could result from my actions.

Early one Saturday morning an aircraft mechanic was taxiing an aircraft when an airport vehicle runs into the aircraft. The mechanic was not wearing his seatbelt. He was thrown across the pedestal, his body pushed the thrust levers up to near take off power, and the force pushed the truck more than 300 yards down the taxiway ending in an almost fatal accident.

An FBO line tech picking up chocks with a golf cart tossed the chocks into the cart. The chocks hit the accelerator. It ended in a fatality.

A limo driver, who had been driving for more than 10 years, was driving on the ramp at night, in a hurry, trying to find an aircraft. While listening to orders from his passenger he drove into the wing of an aircraft.

Five-second rule

We may think we operate safely, but all too often there are distractions and activities that seem to save time and money, but may risk safety. Perhaps it is a good idea to regularly ask ourselves, “Do I do things for convenience that jeopardizes safety?”  Bringing an increased focus and awareness to safety on the ramp is the first step to eliminating and mitigating accidents and incidents. One of the best techniques to engage our brains entirely in the task we are about to do is to employ the five-second rule: Before you begin a task ask yourself what harm or damage could result from my actions.

Damage costs

Statistics and studies tell us that the direct and indirect costs of damage on the apron exceed $5 billion per year. In the case of an FBO that makes its profit selling fuel, that could mean it must sell approximately 50,000 gallons of fuel to offset a $5,000 incident. After the engines stop whining on the ramp, the greatest risks are present when marshaling and parking the airplane, towing in and out of hangars, and servicing the aircraft, especially while fueling operations are taking place. Most accidents occurring in these categories are a result of lack of training. But let’s not overlook the safety and security of passengers. Many are not familiar with the hazards they may be exposed to on the ramp: jet blast, spinning propellers and rotor blades, noise, moving vehicles, just to name a few.

The two major contributors to eliminating accidents on the ramp are proper training and proper equipment. Employees should not be asked to do anything they are not trained to do.

Maintenance pressures

Mechanics have their own nuances to deal with. They operate in close proximity to one another, usually inside a shop or hangar. They require specific tools and equipment to complete tasks. They are subject to pressure and long hours resulting in fatigue. They encounter a broad array of distractions. Procedures are critical, especially during shift change. Communication both verbal and documented must be clear and concise, as well as easily understood by others. Mechanics are subject to the pitfalls of the infamous Dirty Dozen human factors which can lead to incidents and accidents that more often than not, are preventable.  

Training requirements

Here are some pertinent questions to ask yourself to assess and manage risk: Am I properly trained to do the task? If you are the supervisor you should be asking are the people I have asked to do the task properly trained? Do I have the proper tools or equipment necessary to complete the task? Is the equipment in good working order?  Do I need assistance to complete the task? Do I have the appropriate personal protective equipment to keep myself safe? As a supervisor, do you have a training program that is consistent and standardized, as well as documented? Has the appropriate amount of time been allotted for this task? Do I have the correct parts and hardware? Have I located the correct manual and procedure for this task? Am I committed to do it right and not be tempted to do work-arounds?

Some simple best practices go a long way toward ramp and operational safety.

  • Fuel trucks should be chocked when servicing aircraft.

  • Any mobile equipment being used should be positioned to not face the aircraft.

  • Ground power units should not be positioned under tail sections of the aircraft and should be chocked.

  • Tugs and other types of ground service equipment such as golf carts should be shut off, parking brakes set, and chocked when left unattended.

  • Work stands and platforms should be correctly positioned and in compliance with OSHA standards.

  • Distractions should be kept to a minimum.

  • Use a fall protection harness where required.

  • Evaluate aircraft access areas and job tasks with limited egress and follow confined space procedures.

  • Pay close attention to safety procedures for tools such as welding torches, drills, rivets, and grinders, being fully aware of your level of fatigue and alertness while using these tools.

  • Tie back hair and avoid loose jewelry and clothing that may get caught in moving parts.

  • Be aware of sharp leading edges like wing tips, antennas, and probes that stick out from the aircraft.

  • Wear adequate hearing protection. Hearing is one of those things we cannot get back once we lose it!

  • Protect yourself from dust from grinding and sanding operations.

  • Tail-heavy aircraft make it difficult to see on the ground when maneuvering in the hangar or maintenance area. Watch and communicate with the aircraft operator to avoid crush accidents or getting run over by a tire, or colliding with a wing or tail.

Aircraft chemicals such as fuels, lubricants, coating strippers, paints, and solvents may be concentrated and contain hazardous materials. Proper handling, storage, and disposal is critical for your safety as well as those around you. MSDS, Material Safety Data Sheets, should be referenced with respect to handling and disposing of these materials.

Inspection and repair of aircraft structures, coatings, and systems both in hangars and on the ramp require not only good training but safe work habits that do not allow for short-cuts, sloppy house-keeping, and complacent attitudes. Most of us are keenly aware of the operational demands of our business and the temptation to take short cuts, deviate or skip steps in a procedure are ever-present. For the most part, a single short cut or deviation may not bring a bad effect, but the more and more you do it, it becomes a habitual part of your work practices. In human factors studies they refer to this as “norms.” Less than desirable norms will in fact lead to disastrous consequences over time. So before considering substituting a tool for the specified tool, moving the aircraft without the proper personnel to wing-walk, or “reaching your hand in there” for just a second, consider the five-second rule. It may prove to be the most important five seconds of your life.

About the Author

DeborahAnn Cavalcante

DeborahAnn Cavalcante earned her Masters in Aeronautical Science, with a specialization in Safety Management from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, FL, and her Bachelor of Science from VA Tech in Business and Risk Management. 

DeborahAnn Cavalcante leads Diversified Aviation Consulting (DAC) and along with her associates has firsthand experience in air carrier operations, private charter aircraft, general aviation operations, military/civilian interface, FBO management, maintenance repair station training, safety training, human factors training, and customer service training. For more information on DAC visit http://www.dac.aero.