We all love a good summer holiday, and we rely on the airlines we spend our hard-earned money with to get us there safely. They, in turn, rely on an army of skilled engineers and workers to keep their million-pound airliners in top condition.
But even the most skilled of these engineers is put at risk of injury or worse when carrying out aircraft maintenance, whether it is from falls, electrocution, or worse.
Keeping workers safe when carrying out this crucial work is a delicate balancing act between competency and employer planning and risk management. What are the biggest risks to their wellbeing, and what can employers do to minimise that risk?
Risks in aircraft maintenance
There is a range of tasks that must be carried out on the exterior of aircraft, from engine maintenance to painting.
Due to the size of modern aircraft, much of this work is considered ‘work at height’, simply put, work where employees are put at risk of a fall likely to cause injury or worse.
Just accessing the aircraft to carry out the work can be challenging, due to the non-linear shape of aircraft exteriors. This can potentially create lethal gaps between the working platform and lead to a fall.
To overcome this, a comprehensive risk assessment of aircraft maintenance should be carried out to identify where controls can be put in place - whether this is harnesses or alternative platforms - and keep workers safe.
When the aircraft is being manoeuvered, those in the cockpit will have a restricted view of the ground below. In these cases, anyone who does not need to be near the craft should vacate the hangar, and those remaining should be in constant contact with the pilot, to minimise the risk of collisions and crushes.
Propellers and Engines
Most people who work in the airline industry or around aircraft are aware of the risk posed by propellers and engines. One wrong step in the wrong area can lead to severe injury or death, and loose tools or debris can cause chaos.
When aircraft maintenance is being carried out on aircraft, even completely ‘off’ craft, hazardous zones such as intake areas should be clearly marked with either paint or, preferably, barriers or demarcation. Those who do not need to be near the aircraft should be well away, and those nearby should be constantly aware of their surroundings.
Tools should never be left unattended around the aircraft, as they can cause trips and slips, or even get sucked into the engine intake. Employees should closely watch their own tools, and tools should be catalogued and tracked to ensure they aren’t left lying around.
Unless you’re in first class, airplanes can be a bit cramped at the best of times. However, during maintenance and repair, or when the interiors have been stripped, the interior of an aircraft can be downright dangerous.
Without flooring, workers can be exposed to bare steel and wiring beneath. This presents a risk of everything from falls to potential electrocution.
Risk assessments are again crucial here, and should be regularly communicated to those working inside the plane. Only those who absolutely need to enter the craft should do so, and they should be competent enough to do so, with the right training and experience.
The correct PPE and safety equipment should be used at all times, from rubberised boots to safe working platforms to span the gaps. We recently supplied several of our CoverSafe Spark insulated safety mats to an international airline for just this purpose.
Finally, the area should be well ventilated, especially where lubricants, paints, and fuels are concerned. These can not only be a suffocation risk in enclosed spaces, but also potentially flammable. Those inside the craft where such risks are found should be properly trained in relevant areas such as COSHH.
Like all types of work, aircraft maintenance has its risks and dangers. But by employing a comprehensive risk assessment and management procedure, you can maximise the safety of those working in these risky places.
At Oxford Safety Components, we’ve worked with clients in the aerospace industry and beyond for decades, identifying the risks posed to their workers and designing and supplying the right safe access solution. Can we help you? Call us today on 01869 32 32 82 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.