With so much focus on the advances in technology in the industry, sometimes we have to take a step back and look at the big picture. What is the mission of the airside operations organization? To conduct ground handling and services. But above all of that, it is to make sure that all employees, passengers, and bystanders get home safely. The same goes for aircraft hangar operations; it behooves the organization to take aggressive steps to ensure that the work environment is a safe one. So use an aircraft hangar safety checklist to secure this goal.
Concept: Establishing a hangar safety checklist
Pilots rely on checklists from day one of their training. Virtually every aspect of flying an airplane or helicopter is conducted through the use of a checklist.
The reason using checklists is the standard is because checklists add a layer of protection against human error, which is the leading cause of industrial accidents. If you can break the error chain, your operation will be much safer.
Aircraft checklists must be intuitive and have a certain flow. They are designed to allow pilots and crew to move quickly yet be a comprehensive tool in covering all areas of operation. What checklists are not is a replacement for the full flight manual. Checklists, regardless of the application, are a supplement the governing regulation or manual.
Aircraft pilots are not the only aviation professionals who implement checklists. Maintenance technicians generally conduct tasks using abbreviated job guides to the master system technical order. All airframes, regardless of size or type, are supported through a series of completely comprehensive orders. These monstrous manuals quite literally cover every single component of the aircraft, down to specifications for each nut, washer, bolt, and rivet. These manuals are thousands upon thousands of pages in length, making them totally impractical for line maintenance. Hence, abbreviated manuals and checklists are created. The same concept applies to aircraft hangar safety checklists.
Core systems of safety checklists
The process of establishing an aircraft hangar checklist is going to be just that: a process. You need to break away from any line of thinking which equates an airplane hangar with a mere housing unit. Aircraft hangars are much more than that; they house tens of millions of dollars in assets and are host to some of the most complex (and dangerous) mechanical operations in the mechanized world. The best way to tackle an aircraft hangar checklist is to break the hangar down into smaller, digestible areas to work through methodically.
Hangar safety checklist point 1: Administrative
No matter what your position is on the team, the administrative office is where your career starts and ends. While every nation and state has their own agencies which regulate industrial safety compliance, the premise is the same universally.
Visual aids are a valuable reminder to stay in compliance with safety standards. Posters are an excellent tool to quickly remind team members that safety is part of the organizational culture. It reinforces team members to know that they have the backing of supervision in approaching other team members who are not acting in compliance.
All aircraft hangars must have an emergency evacuation plan in place, and ensure they practice it regularly. While it might sound juvenile and unnecessary, evacuation plans reinforced by drills create mental shortcuts for team members to react to emergencies without panicking, so make this a point on your hangar safety checklist.
Aircraft hangars are not necessarily inherently dangerous, but they certainly have the capacity to become dangerous. A plan to provide first aid rapidly needs to be in place in the event that an accident happens because, despite the best-laid plans, accidents do happen in the workplace.
Finally, close the administrative loop by maintaining a log of inspections, incidents and accidents, and anything else which is noteworthy. Over time, an accurate log will be the source of information to hone your safety program. Remember this: your checklist is NOT the safety program; the checklist is a reflection of the safety program! A checklist means nothing if your organization does not have an active culture of aircraft hangar safety.
Hangar safety checklist point 2: Hazardous Communications (HAZCOM)
Aircraft maintenance and operations involve the use of a tremendous amount and variety of caustic chemicals. Fuel, lubricating oil, hydraulic oils, solvents, etc. The list can go on for pages.
The cornerstone of an effective HAZCOM program is maintaining a current and accurate inventory of all chemicals on site. This is everything from fuel inventory right down to simple spray cans. You need an inventory to establish metrics on which chemicals are used most frequently, as well as keeping tabs on what was used in reporting an accident. Emergency responders need to know what a person was exposed to for treatment.
Located in close proximity to the chemical storage, you must provide ALL applicable material safety data sheets (MSD). MSDs are readily available online from all suppliers, so they are very easy to come by. The MSDs should be maintained in a yellow binder and located on a well-marked, highly visible location in plain sight and immediately available to team members who are exposed to chemicals.
MSDs provide a technical detail of the specific composition of the substance, as well as describing the effects of exposure and immediate treatment options.
Hangar safety checklist point 3: Lockout/Tagout
Lockout/tagout is a universal program to reduce risks of electrical shock by shutting down and physically locking out sources of energy and large systems. The prime example in an aircraft hangar is the ground power unit, which is often a very powerful frequency converter.
An example where lockout/tagout is necessary would be locking out electrical power from a frequency converter when flight control surfaces must be immobilized for inspection or repair. More repairmen than we would wish have been crushed between flight controls when they were supposed to be locked out but were inadvertently energized.
Hangar safety checklist point 4: Respiratory Protection
As mentioned, many caustic products are used in the repair, maintenance, and operation of aircraft. Inhaling noxious fumes is extremely dangerous and has harmed a lot of workers over the generations. This is particularly important to workers in confined spaces, such as fuel tanks and fuel cells. The fumes from a fuel tank, even after evacuation, can overtake a person in short order.
The organization has several responsibilities to their team: they must define the proper types of respirators for the operations conducted, they should provide medical exams, and they should provide fit testing and training. Respirators are only as good as their seal. Respirators must be inspected regularly, and inspections must be documented.
Hangar safety checklist point 5: Powered Industrial Trucks and Aircraft Tugs
This part of the checklist is very important. Trucks and tugs are big, heavy, powerful machines which have the capability of crushing a person with little resistance.
Initial and continuing education on the operation and performance limitations of trucks and tugs is imperative. You must stress this; operators must understand the gravity of the equipment that they operate. Aircraft hangar owners and users should consider upgrading to a safer, more efficient type of tug if possible.
Ensure that your hangar safety checklist leads users to perform daily inspections of their trucks and tugs to ensure they are safe for operation. This is the best way to ensure that problem areas do not get pushed aside; keeping daily tabs on critical systems such as brakes is the best way to ensure that little problems do not become big problems.
Issuing a sort of license card with dates and endorsements is a very good way to ensure employees have processed through the entire training process, and are also maintaining mandated continuing education training.
Hangar safety checklist point 6: Personal Protection Equipment and Hearing Conservation
While the example hangar safety checklist breaks these up into two separate areas, they are directly connected. Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) is the ensemble of safety equipment used to keep safe. These are safety eyeglasses, hearing protection, gloves, safety toe shoes, non-slipping soles, high-visibility apparel, and more.
The equipment is assigned to each individual and is their responsibility to maintain, but the culture of safety is the responsibility of the organization.
Hearing conservation is a huge priority. The industrial airport environment, whether FBO, MRO, or ground side operations, is very loud. Jet engines and turbines are terribly destructive to hearing, and diesel tugs and GPUs are extremely loud (all the more reason to upgrade to a modern tug).
Not only does a loss in hearing affect the quality of life of team members, but it poses an immediate safety concern when team members cannot fully hear and process orders and communicate effectively. Aircraft hangars can still be extremely loud, even if the door is closed and there is no diesel equipment operating inside. The best practice for a hangar safety checklist is to encourage team members to possess hearing protection at all times and to use it liberally.
Hangar safety checklist point 7: Working Surfaces and Fall Protection
Airline aircraft and large business jets are tall affairs which often require personnel to work on scaffolding and lifts to access the empennage and backbone. Even the tops of the wings on wide-body jets can be over two stories high. Falling is a very real threat in this environment, and it can kill, or at the very least injure.
Make sure that your aircraft hangar safety checklist includes inspecting fall safety equipment, both daily and on whatever isochronal inspection cycle that regulations require. Also, make sure that the inspection checklist includes checking scaffolding railings, and any braking systems it uses to prevent movement.
Hangar safety checklist point 8: Fire protection
The chemicals which cause respiratory issues are also generally highly flammable. Couple that with the constant exposure and close proximity to electrical power and you have a volatile condition.
Your aircraft hangar checklist needs to ensure a few things regarding fire protection:
- Ensure there is the proper amount of the correct size AND classification of fire extinguishers.
- Make certain that fire extinguishers are mounted properly and not blocked or obscured in any way.
- Ensure all employees are training annually on the proper use of fire extinguishers.
- Make sure that records of scheduled fire extinguisher inspections are readily available and updated.
- If there is a fixed fire protection system, ensure it is being professionally inspected on the recommended cycle and is in fully operational condition.
Conclusion to aircraft hangar safety checklists
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all areas of an aircraft hangar inspection checklist. Other key areas include electrical safety areas, hazardous waste accumulation and disposal, hazardous materials and compressed gases, machine and metalworking safety, and so on. This article is intended to promote a movement of establishing cultures of safety in the aircraft hangar and aviation industrial workplace. Maintaining aircraft is extremely challenging and rewarding, and also has the capacity of being very dangerous. The organization which recognizes this, promotes a safe culture, upgrades and replaces inferior equipment with modern, safe equipment, and implements regular inspections of the workplace will go miles in establishing the safest culture possible.
Safety is one of many responsibilities of a hangar manager. Get our free eBook on hangar management, and learn how you can improve other areas of your daily operations, too!