While Delta mechanics may be up and down all day, injuries have been down during the past five years, dropping 3-5% per year. Not all of this decrease is attributable to stretching. Devising an ergonomically friendly workplace entails communication, too.
“You've got to be willing to listen to the people that are actually doing the work,” says Douglas Cohen, safety chairman for Local 565 of the Transport Workers Union at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Cohen contends TWU and American Airlines have made significant strides in making ramp and hangar more habitable. PPE (personal protective equipment) is a big part of the reason why. “We watch mechanics” as they perform a check, says Cohen. “Everything they encounter, we document.” Then the union makes recommendations.
A case-in-point is bump caps. American's MD-80s are low-slung flying machines. Cohen says mechanics have injured themselves running into trailing edges of wings, gear doors, antenna, or pitot tubes, a hazard which he characterizes as “a real bad one.”
TWU recommended head protection by teaming with PPE distributor Medsafe. “We've already seen a reduction in injuries,” says Cohen. But that doesn't mean the union and American have stopped listening. “The feedback from the guys in the field is they'd like something lighter weight, that's not as hot, that's a little more stylish.”
Propagating proper PPE is a head-to-foot pursuit. Calling it a “huge win for the company and the union,” says Cohen. American now mandates brighly colored reflective vests for every employee whose foot touches the ramp.
Lots of safety initiatives percolate up from the shop floor, which was the case of a Delta mechanic who ran afoul of a Boeing 757 brake assembly. Gossett says there's a pinch point in the assembly where a technician disconnects one of the linkages to remove some bolts. When the technician pinched a finger and had to have the appendage stitched up, he devised a small aluminum tool that could be put where one's finger might go, thus eliminating the hazard. Delta TechOps tooling department produced the part and distributed it throughout the operation.
Many of the improvements seen out on the line and in the hangar are reflective of a systems approach to safety. Individually tailored as the answers may be, “These are fundamental, long-term questions” the industry is facing, says Eberhard Mueller, director of occupational safety and health for Lufthansa Group. To anticipate what might happen, “We are doing risk assessments,” he says, “putting this material in our management database.”
The single most significant leap in ramp and hangar safety is safety management systems, says Bill Johnson, FAA's chief scientific and technical human factors advisor for aircraft maintenance systems. The approach is being promoted by the International Civil Aviation Organization and adopted by member states.
Supporting safety management systems are initiatives such as FAA's aviation safety action program (ASAP). FAA has memoranda of understanding with about 46 maintenance organizations to implement the voluntary program. Volition is the heart and soul of the initiative. By electing to report problems technicians can “save [themselves] from certificate action, or even serious disciplinary action from his or her company,” says Johnson.