With its potential to cause serious injury and loss of life, fire is a significant risk in the lives of those working airside and one which requires strictly enforced measures to mitigate at all times. This includes procedures, protocols, training and the availability of Personal Protective Equipment, protective clothing, equipment and accessories.
The complexity of airside operations, the constant presence of flammable materials and substances, as well as machinery and electrics, are all the ingredients of a fire risk.
The fire triangle
A fire needs three elements – a heat source, fuel and oxygen to burn. This the fire triangle. Airside there are many heat sources and plentiful fuel, and it’s open to the air, an oxidising agent. This makes the challenge of fire prevention most acute when aircraft fuel is involved.
Many attendant hazards must be mitigated when refuelling or de-fuelling aircraft. Aircraft fuel has a low flash/ ignition point, meaning the immediate risk is from the fuel vapour that could be ignited by a spark. Even the discharge of electrostatic energy could ignite a significant accumulation of vapour due to spillage, leaks or procedural errors.
While most fuels have a static dissipator additive to reduce the risk, it cannot be entirely eradicated, making the wearing of appropriate PPE, including anti static flame retardant protective clothing, essential for airside personnel involved in this process.
The hazard also needs to be managed with handling, storage and clean-up strategies in the event of a spillage. Much of the prevention of fire around fuel is a matter of good house-keeping and adequate training in the procedures for dealing with leakage, spillage and emergencies, including the use of respiratory PPE in the event of a fire.
Flammable substances as cargo
Those working in the logistics and cargo departments of airside operations are also at risk when handling flammable cargo, which could be solid, liquid or gas, and not only presents a fire risk but also the potential for explosion.
As with refuelling and de-fuelling, it is essential that airside operators restrict the use of personal electronic devices, such as mobile phones, when handling cargo. The electrical charge from such an item could induce a spark of enough intensity to ignite fuel.
Legislation requires that flammable cargo is marked, as part of the Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations (2009). Handlers will also be expected to comply with these standards when moving cargo airside.
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