Back to Basics

Feb. 1, 2001
Health and Safety

Back to Basics

By Richard Rowe

February 2001

Welcome to yet another new section within the magazine. This time, it is a regular section (in all 10 issues this year) devoted to ramp/airside health and safety issues. The scope is endless and we will be dedicating column inches over the coming year to issues as varied as reducing back injuries amongst baggage handlers, wing walking, manual handling in confined spaces, ground communication, overwing fall prevention, and many others.

Clearly, everyone in the ground support industry has a vested interest in improving worker safety and developing best practice--even if top management doesn't always recognize the need for expenditure in this area. Our modest aim is to use our readership and distribution to play our part in promoting various health and safety initiatives through the pages of the magazine.

We will do this by forging links with safety organizations and bodies around the world. These include the International Air Transport Section (ARTEX) of the National Safety Council in the U.S. (and its international offspring, the Australasian Aviation Ground Safety Council and EAGOSH in Europe), as well as the U.K.’s Health and Safety Executive, and the Flight Safety Foundation.

In addition, I would like to extend a personal invitation to you to use GSE Today as a medium through which you can share with your colleagues and counterparts around the world some of the safety initiatives you are driving forward in your organization. Tell us about your successes. Just as importantly, tell us about some of the issues you are struggling with. Others may be able to help.

Involvement in the magazine could take the form of full-length feature articles, case studies, opinion pieces, or even just diary dates of safety meetings. Clearly, health and safety is a sensitive issue, and contributions will be treated as such--particularly when related to discussions of specific accidents/incidents.

One initiative that has already caught our attention comes from the American Airlines team at London Heathrow. Driven forward by Colin Hewett, American’s Safety, Health and Environment Manager in the U.K., the team has developed a baggage lifter device that is designed not only to improve baggage unloading efficiency from aircraft container to belt, but also reduce the number of manual handling injuries amongst baggage handlers.

American began a three-month trial of the prototype air-fed lifting device a year ago at belt five in the customs hall of Heathrow’s Terminal Three. Manufactured by U.K. company Stirchley Technical Services, the unit hangs from a purpose built gantry above the actual baggage belt. Baggage handlers use a drop down hook--fed by an air compressor--to load baggage from aircraft containers onto the belt.

Initially, the lifter was used as part of a two-person system of unloading. One handler would use the lifter, while the other would position the bag. As handlers became more familiar with the lifter it became a one-man operation. The lifter is designed as an extension of the arm, with one hand free for baggage positioning. Much depends on how bags are stacked in the first place. Give the premise that the lifter acts as an extension of the arm, it needs to be able to reach and grab anything that a human hand can reach and grab.

Hewett reports that the lifter has been proved to speed unloading and, more to the point, eliminate the manual handling element of the operation that can contribute to so many back injuries amongst staff.

Since initial trials at Heathrow, Hewett and the manufacturer have flown to American’s Dallas headquarters to highlight the benefits of the lifter. Headquarters must have been impressed because representatives from both Dallas and Miami--including John Goya, American’s Employee Safety Manager--flew to Heathrow at the end of January to see the lifter in action. "If all goes well I would like to test the system at Dallas/Fort Worth," Goya told GSE Today.

This is a welcome step forward for Hewett who has endured slow progress in the project back at Heathrow. The problem is that the airport operator, BAA, wants every airline to request the use of the lifter before it injects money into the initiative (as it would involve expenditure on additional infrastructure). In addition, American won’t buy into the system because it does not have the luxury of a dedicated belt at Heathrow.

However, with the tentative plan to have a trial unit installed at Dallas/Fort Worth, Hewett remains upbeat. When the initial trials were underway a year ago, Hewett predicted that within the next five years they would be installed in airports all over the world. He stands by that prediction today.

GSE Today will follow the development of the baggage lifter project at Dallas/Fort Worth with considerable interest.