As an aircraft maintenance manager, you have multiple responsibilities at any given time. But there’s no greater ongoing duty than fostering a workplace culture that focuses on keeping your aircraft maintenance technicians safe.
Of course, one of the greatest threats to this endeavor is the constant risk of complacency. And everything from wearing the right protective equipment to using the right aircraft equipment is ultimately the result of a technician making a responsible decision at an appropriate time.
Throughout this article, we’ll examine some of the risks in the aviation maintenance workplace and some simple ways to combat complacency and promote good safety practices among your personnel.
What Is Aircraft Maintenance?
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Proper aircraft maintenance is essential for any aviation business. From daily maintenance to overhauls, it’s crucial for keeping a fleet in peak condition — and keeping your maintenance technicians safe and healthy ultimately leads to more thorough work. A fully-functioning and focused maintenance team ensures aircraft get serviced the right way.
Lives depend on the work your maintenance technicians do, which means they need the proper tools, equipment and a bulletproof maintenance plan. Only by fine-tuning your maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) routine can you protect your technicians and your aircraft to the fullest.
Now, let’s get into potential risks for your maintenance team and how to avoid them.
Common Aircraft Maintenance Safety Issues
Because of the potentially dangerous work environment of aircraft maintenance, mechanics are at more of a risk than in other career fields. Working on aircraft means working high above the ground, moving heavy objects, using powerful machinery and being near hazardous chemicals — not to mention the long-term risk of exposure to vibration and noise. However, with the right equipment and safety precautions, your mechanics can significantly lower the chances for injury.
So why do accidents still happen even with excellent maintenance routine planning and proper equipment? It almost always comes down to employee complacency and not following procedures.
While there are times when even the best preparation can’t prevent a mistake, making sure your mechanics are healthy, follow safety procedures and don’t cut corners will significantly reduce the chances of them getting into an accident.
One risk for any worker who’s involved in a potentially dangerous industry like aircraft maintenance is the effect of ‘shift work.’ When workers have set shifts, it means they might have to work despite not being fully physically or psychologically fit. And since some aircraft maintenance routines require mechanics to work non-traditional hours, the risks for employees not being physically and mentally prepared to perform safe work is much higher. It’s important to realize these limitations of your maintenance team and adjust accordingly. Some of the potential hazards from shift work include:
- Fatigue and Sleepiness: Irregular hours of work can mean your mechanics may not get all the sleep they need. Coupled with long or strenuous maintenance, this can lead to inefficient and unthorough work.
- Stress: Personal and work life can be stressful and have people thinking about things other than the task at hand. Distraction from stress can be dangerous if a technician isn’t paying attention to a detailed maintenance operation.
- Medical Problems: Health problems like gastrointestinal and cardiovascular issues can arise from interruptions caused by irregular work hours.
- Age: Older employees may have a more difficult time adjusting to irregular work hours or a changing schedule.
It’s important to communicate with your employees to identify any problems they have. The best MRO managers find solutions that allow for efficient work and healthy, happy maintenance technicians.
Be Prepared for Aircraft Maintenance Safety
The best way to avoid accidents and ensure quality aircraft maintenance is to plan. Detailed planning is vital for thorough maintenance, as well as employee safety.
Additionally, frequent employee safety training is the best way to educate your crew and keep them vigilant. Here are some aircraft maintenance safety topics to include both in your training and in your overall safety plan:
1. Review Risk Management Practices
When on the job, employees should do their best to keep their mind clear of distractions and anything that will take attention away from their work — even the most experienced mechanics get distracted sometimes. By following risk management practices, technicians can avoid simple mistakes that can lead to severe accidents. Remind your crew that it’s a good idea to double check even simple maintenance tasks to make sure not to forget anything.
2. Follow the Appropriate Procedures
Maintenance technicians should always follow approved data and procedures when performing any maintenance operation. Service manuals are essential references with detailed information about how to complete each task and any specific tools required.
Also, keep in mind that for maintenance items that aren’t included in your service manuals, it’s a good idea to find references for your mechanics so that they are all using the same standardized, approved procedure.
3. Use Safety Signs
Any reminder of safety protocol is a good idea. That’s why clearly-displayed signs that remind technicians to adhere to basics — like wearing a safety harness when working on top of wings and fuselages — is both a cost-effective and consistent method of pushing safety to the forefront of your team’s mind. Also, remember that the use of safety flags and other caution signage is a great way to promote safety when your technicians might otherwise be getting complacent working in a familiar space.
4. Ensure Team Communication Is Effective
Just because you haven’t had an accident occur in your hangar lately doesn’t mean your team is immune from one tomorrow. By regularly holding safety meetings and bringing up safety issues whenever you communicate important information to your personnel, you’ll go a long way toward being proactive instead of reactive.
It always helps to ask your crew if there are any improvements they think will help make their job safer. Your team appreciates having their opinion valued, and fostering a work atmosphere based on safety helps reduce complacency.
5. Be Prepared for the Worst
From clearly marked eyewash units and first aid kits to fire suppression equipment and emergency exits, you must be ready to respond to accidents when they happen. And make sure all members of your team — from the most senior to the most junior — are fully trained in the use of emergency equipment, as this is crucial for being prepared for a worst-case scenario. Remember — in an emergency, every second counts.
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Safe aircraft maintenance means not cutting corners. Here’s how the pros minimize the chance for injury:
1. Use Protective Equipment
Aircraft have many sharp edges and moving parts as well as hazardous fuels and other toxic liquids. In contrast, the human body has no protection against extreme heat, sharp metal objects and caustic or noxious fuels and fumes. This is why stressing the regular and consistent use of personal protective equipment — PPE — is number one on this list.
You can’t replace your sight, hearing or well-being if it’s taken from you due to unprotected contact with heated surfaces, flying metal shards or dangerous chemicals. For this reason, safety goggles, hearing protection, sturdy clothing and even breathing apparatuses must be used by technicians whenever appropriate.
2. Use Respiratory Protection
It’s easy for seasoned mechanics to forego standard safety protection because of their comfort and extensive experience on the job. But everyone should take proper precaution, especially when working on landing gear sections and brake replacement. These areas contain asbestos and can contribute to the development of asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma. Some mechanics won’t use respiratory protection because there’s no apparent threat, but long-term exposure can lead to serious health issues.
3. Use Aircraft Maintenance Equipment
Besides equipping your maintenance technicians with the proper tools, giving them the right ground support equipment is just as crucial to safety and efficiency. Safe access to a work area is essential for any maintenance job, and aircraft maintenance stands are the only solution for aviation work. They provide mechanics with secure access to even the most awkward areas. Aircraft equipment that’s specifically designed for the task at hand is a great way to reduce slips, falls and other workplace injuries.
The seriousness of this issue is backed up by statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reports that 17 percent of occupational fatalities in 2017 were the result of falls in the workplace. When you choose JETechnology Solutions, Inc. to supply your aircraft equipment, you get ground support equipment that’s fully compliant with OSHA standards. What’s more, we offer built-in fall protection and provide integrated power supplies for tools.
4. Use the Right Tools
Specific maintenance tasks can require unique tools. And while your mechanics can probably improvise and get the job done anyway, specialized tools exist for a reason — they help get the job done correctly. It’s important to let your employees know that it’s better to inform you about the need for a tool rather than try to get the job done without it, as improvising can lead to a compromised aircraft.
If you only need task-specific tools occasionally, you may be able to rent them to avoid purchasing and storing them when they’re not in use.
5. Return Tools to Their Storage Areas
When your technicians complete a work day or a task, it’s a good idea to return all tools to their proper storage areas. A misplaced tool can be dangerous if it finds its way into the wrong part of an aircraft. We recommend creating a checklist for all tools needed for a task so that they can be accounted for when they are put away, or at least the mechanics can consult the list to ensure they don’t leave anything where it shouldn’t be.
One tool that has no substitute is a fire extinguisher — one should always be easily accessible for your technicians. While this one is obvious, too often the fire extinguisher is out of reach or nonexistent. For personal safety and for protection of valuable assets, everyone needs easy access to fire prevention tools.
6. Remove Jewelry
You’ve probably seen a training film or two with images of hands missing fingers due to technicians not removing wedding rings before working on aircraft. These images should serve as sufficient warning, but be sure to back them up with regular reminders for your employees to remove all jewelry before getting started on any maintenance work.
Keep Aircraft Technicians Healthy and Safe
There’s nothing more important than the well-being of your employees. And besides equipping them with the right tools and equipment, there are some steps you can take to maximize their health and safety. By applying these techniques, you can minimize the risks caused by employee fatigue and complacency:
1. Daily Limits
Make sure your employees don’t work for too long for on any one shift. Working overtime is necessary sometimes, but it should be kept to a minimum if possible. OSHA reports a 37 percent increase in the chance for injury when an employee works more than 12 hours.
Not only does fatigue start to set in, but complacency and lack of concentration are also inevitable for anyone after working for too long, which can lead to mistakes and counter-productive work. Set daily limits for your employees and try to make sure nobody continues to work if they’re not able to fully concentrate.
2. Limit the Number of Night Shifts
The more time employees spend working at night or irregular hours, the more chance they will have for decreased concentration and accidents. Compared to daytime shifts, OSHA reports that injury and accident rates are 30 percent higher during night shifts. They are also 18 percent higher during evening shifts.
It’s much easier to make mistakes when you are sleep deprived or when your mind is unable to focus on the task at hand. For this reason, try to only give employees a maximum of two night shifts in a row, with a few days of recovery time afterward.
The longer an employee goes without a break the more likely they are to make mistakes — especially with detail-oriented and sensitive work like aircraft maintenance. Try to schedule adequate breaks for all employees and give them enough time to recharge and refocus before returning back to work.
4. Set Multi-Day Limits
Working several days in a row, even with proper breaks within the workday can take a mental and physical toll. Allow employees to take days off as necessary and use vacation days to recharge.
It all comes down to your employees. They may not always feel comfortable voicing their concerns without being asked, so it’s always good to check in and make sure they feel healthy, well-equipped and well protected.
JETechnoloy Solutions: Safety First With Superior Aircraft Equipment
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Here at JETechnonology Solutions, we make professional aircraft maintenance stands that have been keeping mechanics in many different industries safe for years. We offer a wide selection of pre-fab and custom units that are unmatched for quality and functionality.
Fall prevention technology keeps your technicians safe. And with a combination of adjustable and stationary work stands, your employees can safely reach their work area and more effectively perform their job, which means fewer injuries and a better-maintained fleet.
We earn our business with top-of-the-line products and excellent customer service. From design to implementation, our team will walk you through the process and help you reach the best solution for your MRO routine.
We’ve worked with many different industries and aviation sectors, and we know how to make a ground support solution that’s perfect for your unique needs.
For the best safety features in your ground support equipment, contact us today. Or, get in touch directly and contact a JSI engineer. We’re dedicated to supporting your safety.