Select maintenance equipment and tools that foster work safety and efficiency in the hangar.

During rotorcraft inspections, maintenance, and repairs, aviation mechanics and engineers navigate many safety risks, from personal fatigue and tool control to accessing hard-to-reach components. Mechanics often climb scaffolding and ladders while carrying heavy tools and replacement parts and stretch and bend at awkward angles to work on main-rotor and tail-rotor systems. Given that these systems are at considerable heights, falling is a genuine danger.

Providing mechanics with safe access to their work area is paramount. Choosing proper equipment, including fall-protection platforms specially designed for helicopter maintenance, and opting for solutions that fit your crew’s workflow are simple ways to significantly increase safety and efficiency. And looking out for your workforce’s comfort and safety is one way to communicate your appreciation for their contributions—which can pay off in a tight labor market.

Smart Steps

Today’s aircraft maintenance platforms and ladder stands come in a variety of sizes, styles, and heights and incorporate a broad range of functionality. Choices include standard stock models that work for most operations or custom models that can be designed to fit your maintenance needs. Either way, you have more options than you might realize.

For a safe working environment, consider these tips when selecting fall-protection maintenance platforms and ladder stands:

  • Choose structures designed to fit around your specific helicopter’s make and model
  • Check that the equipment meets OSHA requirements and ANSI standards
  • Verify that the equipment includes the basics, such as nonskid traction, sturdy handrails, kickplates, a stabilizing system, and enough room for workers to carry tools and parts up and down the steps safely
  • Opt for ergonomic platforms and stands with anti-fatigue mats or padding to support your crew’s comfort and well-being during the often extended hours of standing and kneeling required to perform maintenance and inspections
  • Choose platforms that have dedicated places for securing tools, hardware, foreign object debris, and trash (including oily and combustible items) to improve efficiency and minimize the risk of dropped and misplaced items
  • Look for features that reduce stress and strain on your crew, such as an easily adjustable height and lockable wheels for moving the equipment between the hangar and ramp
  • Take all your workspaces into consideration, including limited areas and fieldwork locations, and choose well-built ladder stands that are portable or capable of fitting in tight spaces
  • Look for structures with a rub rail to protect helicopters from airframe damage, which can be expensive and time consuming to repair.

Tool Management

Managing tools and parts at height poses challenges and risks. It’s easy to forget or misplace a tool when working in an awkward or distracting environment. Feeling rushed or fatigued increases the risk.

The hazards are self-evident. Dropped tools and parts can injure someone below as well as cause costly damage to the aircraft or to the components being installed or removed for repair. Misplacing tools can cause critical delays in maintenance. Of course, leaving tools inside an aircraft can be dangerous and costly as well.

To improve tool management and mitigate risks:

  • Ensure that crews can easily secure and access tools and components on maintenance platforms and ladder stands
  • Add shadow foam to toolboxes not only to hold the tools securely in place but also to make it easy for crews to see  which tools are missing
  • Opt for a high-tech solution: choose toolboxes with a built-in electronic tracking system that sends an alert when a tool is missing.

The work aircraft mechanics do on the ground is crucial to safeguarding lives in the air, and maintenance itself is inherently hazardous. Adopting these simple recommendations can help you protect your maintenance crew, minimize the risk of falls and other injuries, and reduce potential damage to helicopters, tools, and parts. Given that well-designed ground equipment can last decades, the investment you make to ensure your crew’s safety today will be repaid for many years to come.

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Johnny Buscema

Johnny Buscema

Johnny Buscema is president and CEO of S.A.F.E. Structure Designs, a manufacturing company specializing in custom maintenance fall-protection platforms for civilian and military operations.