Monitoring and maintaining a fleet of aircraft presents a number of ever-changing safety hazards at your hangar or facility.
Furthermore, you face compliance challenges from not only OSHA, but also the FAA and your corporate office, and the aviation industry is one of the most highly regulated in the world in terms of safety. Yet, every minute your aircraft are on the ground, you’re losing money.
So how do you clear these compliance hurdles while also reducing turnaround time on aircraft maintenance? You need the right safety solution that keeps workers moving efficiently while minimizing their exposure to harm.
Here are the four biggest compliance challenges your facility must face – and three safety solutions to help you tackle them.
Challenge #1: Corporate- & OSHA-Compliant Access
When it comes to workplace safety for your aircraft maintenance employees, you have to be triple compliant. Not only is aircraft access regulated by OSHA, but also by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines and corporate policies. Military aircraft facilities have their own particular safety standards as well.
OSHA regulations: In your hangar or facility, aircraft fall protection standards are determined by the General Industry Standards Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (29 CFR) parts 1910 and 1926.
FAA regulations: Fall protection and prevention standards apply to all aircraft-related personnel including contractors and subcontractors, according to FAA Order 3900.19, Chapter 10. In addition, the Flight Standards Service (AFS) Fall Protection Program from the FAA is also in effect in your aircraft facility or hangar.
Additional regulations: Your own corporate leadership may have additional regulations when it comes to fall prevention or safety at your site. If your facility is under military jurisdiction, you also have additional safety regulations, such as the fall protection program outlined by the U.S. Navy.
Challenge #2: Protecting More Than Just Ground Workers
At your aircraft facility, the well-being of ground workers and maintenance crews isn’t your only safety priority. Maintaining the integrity of the aircraft exterior is just as important as ground-level employee safety.
Any damage that compromises the hull of the aircraft ultimately means the flight crew and future passengers will be unsafe during a flight. So, no matter how safe your ground maintenance crew was in the hangar, protecting the integrity of the aircraft is equally imperative.
The right safety solution should balance out the safety needs of your hangar employees and the safety of the aircraft hull. Because if either one is unsafe, there are potentially fatal consequences.
Challenge #3: Irregular Access Requirements
In comparison to rail cars, trucks and ships, aircraft have some of the most irregular surfaces that ground-level crews have to navigate for maintenance, loading or cleaning.
Often, your employees need to maneuver over a surface that humans weren’t designed to work on, such as an aircraft wing or helicopter engine. Not only are these surfaces difficult to traverse, but they’re often the most critical parts of an aircraft that cannot face being damaged.
Because access is difficult (and limited) to these irregular surfaces, many companies end up using dangerous workarounds. These alternative approaches are made even more unsafe when workers are rushed because of industry demands on turnaround time.
The right safety solution isn’t one-size-fits-all for every hangar, aircraft or facility. Rather, it should be flexible to the shapes and sizes of your aircraft fleet so workers are able to freely access hard-to-reach places in an expedient manner without compromising anyone’s safety.
Challenge #4: Minimizing Maintenance Turnaround Time
When an aircraft isn’t flying, your business isn’t making any money, so turnaround time must be tight for tasks like maintenance, repairs or refueling. In addition, the fiercely competitive airline industry means your competitors are working to minimize their aircraft turnaround time just as much as you are.
In non-commercial settings such as the military, turnaround time is just as important for a different reason: combat readiness. When repairs or maintenance on your aircraft take too long because of a slow access solution or bulky safety equipment, your soldiers’ lives are on the line and your enemy has more time to prepare.
No matter what turnaround challenge you’re facing, you need a safety solution that doesn’t impede the work of your ground crew while also adapting to the different needs of your various aircraft. You don’t have the time or money to store and retrieve different work stands, platforms or ladders for each of your assorted aircraft. You need one flexible solution that keeps your people safe and your aircraft moving.
Now that you understand the four biggest challenges facing your aircraft fall prevention efforts, let’s take a look at the three best solutions for tackling those obstacles.
Safety Solution #1: Cable And Harness Solutions
For many kinds of aircraft maintenance work, an overhead permanent anchorage point is a viable solution for worker fall protection. These engineered systems are attached to the ceiling of your hangar and protect workers from falling via a cable strung from the ceiling to their full-body harness. This safety solution also reduces the forces exerted upon a falling worker and gives your maintenance crew a great range of mobility.
But cable and harness solutions have a few disadvantages as well. One major disadvantage to a permanent overhead cable solution is that it can’t be moved. The airplane must be perfectly spotted directly underneath the system in order for a mechanic to effectively – and safely – use the system. A cable system is also limited to larger aircraft only, because the non-rigid cable must flex to reduce the forces exerted on a worker. This life-saving flexibility requires an increased fall clearance that’s only found on larger aircraft.
A cable and harness solution offers aircraft fall protection, but not true fall prevention, rendering it less effective at long-term safety. Fall protection measures usually put the primary burden of safety on the individual employee while the compliance burden (if anything should go wrong) is still on your organization. Hurried or less trustworthy employees are then more likely to cause an accident that you will be responsible for cleaning up.
Safety Solution #2: Quick And Simple Safety Solutions
Not every aircraft access solution has complex demands, and sometimes the best solution is the simplest one. Particularly if your ground crew is consistently working with the same type of aircraft in the same environment, an investment in a set safety ladder or stand may be all you need.
Safety solutions like aircraft maintenance ladders (AMLs) and crew access stands give your team the access they need to fixed-height areas of your aircraft while also minimizing the likelihood of a fatal fall. These solutions are easy to move and simple to store so you’re not wasting precious time while trying to access your aircraft.
For safe access to helicopters, avoid using standard ladders and platforms that are often too bulky to maneuver near a helicopter and too dangerous since they don’t allow easy access to critical areas. Instead, use a helicopter maintenance stand that’s customized to the height and access needs of your ground crew while also preventing injurious falls.
Safety Solution #3: Aerial Lifts For Fluid Access Requirements
Consider this scenario: An enterprise must replace windshields on all of its airliners, so they need a work stand or platform able to safely and quickly access nine different aircraft, each of a different height. The cost and storage of separate stands or access platforms wouldn’t be feasible, so they need a flexible safety solution to meet their varying requirements.
If you could identify with the scenario above, your facility might benefit from an aerial lift such as a cherry picker, scissor lift or B-1 stand. Aerial lifts are particularly helpful when your crew needs to reach higher than a stationary stand allows.
If used incorrectly, lifts and flexible stands can damage the hull of an aircraft, especially on the fuselage or wing, so proper training should be required before ground crew are allowed to use an aerial lift.
Aircraft fall prevention poses a number of challenges for workplace safety and tight turnaround times at your hangar or facility. Yet, with the proper safety solution in place, your ground crew accesses even the most hard-to-reach places with ease and efficiency. An investment in the right safety solution for your aircraft’s particular needs allows your bottom line to take off without any turbulence.
Is your aircraft hangar or facility as safe as it needs to be in order to remain corporate and OSHA compliant? Click below to take an online assessment and discover what metrics you need to be tracking for a safer aviation workplace.