Better Safe Than Sorry

Quick Reminders for Safer MRO Working Practices
Walter Heneghan
October 11, 2017
By Walter Heneghan
This issue let’s talk about our maintenance brethren. Often unappreciated, the fact remains that without our AMEs, we would have nothing to fly and no work. So, let’s address the safety side of maintenance in our daily helicopter operations.


Our industry tends to be “ops-centric” when it comes to the regulatory framework and most safety systems that I have observed also mirror this focus.  Duty days, fatigue management, manning levels, programmed time off – all these areas are addressed for pilots in ops manuals but rarely in maintenance manuals. Safety management systems (SMS) address hazards and risks but often come up short when it comes to identifying and mitigating the real risks around maintenance activities.  So let’s explore this matter.

For starters, the maintenance world varies considerably. Helicopters often work remotely, isolated far from home. We have urban bases that provide greater degrees of support for base and line maintenance and finally, major MRO centres for heavy, depot level maintenance activity. Each of these locations poses unique risks and should be managed accordingly. I will address those areas that are common to all maintenance activity: personal protective equipment (boots, eye and especially hearing protection), working from heights, exposure to chemicals and tool control. How many of you know someone who is missing a finger? There are a lot of moving parts around helicopters – and jewelry has no place being in their orbit.

From a personal protective equipment perspective, perhaps the big items are safety glasses/goggles and hearing protection. There are plenty of solutions available for ensuring that your hearing is protected: standard ear defenders, “popcorn” and custom made earplugs.

This last item has proven to be a very effective, portable, and lightweight solution and many companies provide this service to their employees.  Remember, hearing loss is cumulative and forever so wear protection for ground runs, compressor washes and anytime you are working with a running aircraft. An overlooked area for maintenance operations is the provision and use of adequate fall protection
equipment. The requirement for the use of some form of fall protection varies by jurisdiction and can be as low as 1.3 metres above ground level to a more common 1.8 – 2.0 metres above ground level. This means that either passive (handrails, climbing helmets, work stands) or active (yo-yo systems or full body harnesses with clip on tails) protection is required. I have observed too many occasions where a desire to “get’er dun” has trumped taking appropriate precautions. A fall from a height of two metres can cripple, paralyze or kill you. Here are some sobering stats:  From July 2003 through 2011, a SafeWork Australia study showed that 11 per cent of all workers killed in that period died as a result of injuries suffered from falling, with workers aged 45 and over comprising 70 per cent of the fatality group.

In the same period, more than 7,500 claims for serious injury were lodged meaning that 21 employees per day filed a lost time injury claim for time off work.  Closer to home, from 2010-2014 in Ontario, there were more than 6,500 lost time injuries from falls from heights.

Finally, a WorkSafe BC report from 2014 showed an average of eight fatalities per year over five years from falling from heights. Mitigation is available, is not necessarily expensive and is mandated by labour law.  So, if your workplace plays fast and loose with working from height training and mitigation, stand your ground and ensure that you are protected!

Finally, I wanted to highlight something about human factors training, a Transport Canada mandate for all AMEs. Every few years all maintenance staff must undergo this recurrent training. More companies are now opting for e-learning or on-line solutions as a cost cutting measure. What is your personal individual commitment to brushing up on the human factors aspects of maintenance operations? For this type of training, I am not a fan of e-learning. The real advantage of human factors training is the interaction among course mates about their experiences on the job. Pay attention to this recurring event – it is important to take heed to the lessons provided, incorporate them into your personal practice and stay safe.


Walter Heneghan is an experienced and well-travelled pilot who has served as the top safety professional at Canadian Helicopters and Summit Aviation. He is currently working with CHC Helicopter in Kazakhstan as an SMS development specialist. He is a regular contributor to Helicopters and Wings magazines.


More in this category: « Down to the Wire  |  A Dire Course »

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