Airports are busy, hazardous places, which create significant risks to the health and safety of those working airside. To adequately safeguard against dangerous or damaging situations, we first need to know what the hazards are and assess the risk that they pose. While the dangers that fire, chemicals and adverse weather conditions pose to airside staff are well known, the regular technological and procedural changes made to operate ever-busier airports can create new hazards. How can these be identified and assessed to keep workers safe?
Staff reporting of safety risks
Personnel working airside are often best placed to identify any new hazards. They are experts in their field and can spot potential dangers, such as new fire risks or changes in procedures that have unintended safety consequences. Time pressures and efficiencies should never be at the cost of safety, which is why hazards need to be continually monitored, to ensure no dangerous compromises exist or are emerging.
Aviation businesses need to ensure that robust safety reporting measures in place, and that hazard reporting is easy, with few barriers to completion. In some circumstances, staff need to go beyond their internal reporting methods. For example, ground handlers are obliged to report some safety issues, including spillages, aircraft damage, and problems de-icing, to the CAA’s Mandatory Occurrence Reporting process.
Conversations, interviews and surveys
Maintaining an open dialogue with staff is essential to get direct information from the front line. This is especially important during times of change, when procedures and equipment might be different, or following a safety-related incident. Whether on a formal or informal basis, tapping into the knowledge of those working airside can help identify hazards so that risks can be assessed and the dangers mitigated. Well-structured surveys can be an insightful way to get as much information as possible from employees, especially if the anonymity of respondents is assured.
Regularly assessing the workplace first-hand through inspections is a crucial way to get an on-the-job look at potential hazards. While employee feedback is critical, if staff have found a way to accommodate or work around an issue, they may not be formally reporting it and a key risk could be missed. Health and safety officers and managers must have a visible presence to fully appreciate the working environment of their staff and to identify potential issues and ensure the adherence of guidelines.
Aviation Maritime Confidential Incident Reporting (CHIRP) provides a confidential reporting system for individuals in these industries. CHIRP’s dedicated Ground Handling and Security Staff Report collates feedback from employees and offers advice on how to handle issues, such as insufficient training, security or personnel concerns.
Health and safety managers can use the reports to understand if there are safety issues relevant to their company that are not being raised internally. Checking these reports regularly can also help health and safety managers identify issues affecting other companies that have the potential to become safety issues within their own business in future.
Following an incident or accident, a full investigation takes place. The learnings of these must be observed to avoid repeating past mistakes. The investigating body depends on the circumstances of the accident. It could be the company itself, the airport, the manufacturer or a national organisation, such as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). If an aircraft is involved, the Air Accident Investigation Branch investigates, and there can sometimes be indirect learnings to protect ground staff.
The CAA investigates and publishes detailed safety reviews. A specific working group within the CAA, the Ground Handling Operations Safety Team (GHOST), addresses ground handling issues to improve safety. In 2019, a priority was encouraging open reporting of safety events.
More widely, the CAA publishes safety advisories. Most recently, the Airside Safety Management document was updated, discussing the identification of hazards and managing risks in the aerodrome in detail. These include the risks associated with aircraft arrival, engine management, aircraft movement, noise, lights, falling objects, adverse weather conditions, Foreign Object Debris and manual handling, among others.
Companies that manufacture airside equipment, from aircraft to cargo vehicles and conveyor belts, sometimes issue reports that flag potential hazards. Technology is ever-evolving and with it the dangers, which may not always be immediately apparent. Depending on the nature of your aviation business, good relationships with the manufacturers of the products your workforce uses is imperative to ensure you’re immediately notified of any new potential hazards.
Identifying hazards is the first step. Next, health and safety professionals need to determine the best way to understand the scope of the risk to protect against it. Risk management systems, safety management databases and hazard trend analysis are all methods that can be adopted to investigate risk profile. Some hazards can be eradicated or mitigated; others will need continual monitoring.
Formal risk assessments in aviation should always consider:
- What could happen should the hazard manifest itself?
- What’s the likelihood of it happening (or happening again)?
- How severe is the risk?
- Are existing controls effective?
- Should additional actions should be taken to control future risk?
- How quickly do the corrective and/or preventive actions need to be implemented?
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