Airside at an airport is part technical area and part customer service zone, and when it comes to the technical area, there are many instances when the health and safety of airside workers could be compromised by exposure to chemicals or other hazardous materials used during key airside operations – during cleaning operations, de-icing, aircraft maintenance or refuelling the aircraft.
Other potential sources of exposure to chemical and hazardous materials are engine exhaust fumes, microbes in toilet waste, and leaks from damaged baggage and cargo that could be carrying dangerous goods.
The health and safety hazards faced by ground handling staff include chemicals and hazardous materials may be toxic, corrosive, an irritant or otherwise harmful to health, such as biological agents, and may also cause damage to the aircraft.
Controlling substances hazardous to health
A recent study by the Institute of Occupational Medicine and commissioned by EU-OSHA, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work named silica, asbestos, solvents, non-infectious biological agents and wood dust as the five most dangerous substances that workers in Europe are exposed to.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) require that any substances hazardous to health should be labelled appropriately as potentially dangerous. This labelling applies to any materials used while carrying out airside operations, such as fuel and cleaning products, that may cause harm. However, it also applies to products being transported that may be handled by airside staff.
As part of this legislation, the airport is required to undertake risk assessments. The point of this risk assessment is to assess potential harm that could be caused by the handling or the release/ spillage of such substances. The first step in preventing such hazards is to put policies and procedures in place that prevent exposure, for instance, using appropriate storage devices. Airside operators must also assess whether a less hazardous material could be used instead.
Exposure to chemicals and hazardous materials
It is clear in the COSHH regulations that there is an expectation that individuals will, at times, be exposed to chemicals and hazardous materials. It is also common sense to appreciate that aviation fuel cannot be replaced with an alternative, and some cleaning chemicals are likely to be corrosive.
Initially, the expectation is that any potential spill is controlled using spill control methods. This is both for the protection of the aircraft, which could corrode from contact with chemicals, but also for the safety of workers and passengers. This might be an appropriate cabinet for the storage of chemicals, with proper labelling as required by COSHH, or it could be a spill kit that includes absorbent materials for the safe removal of spilled chemical or hazardous material. Also, as part of the risk assessment, airport managers need to provide and enforce the use of appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE).
The EU-OSHA Healthy Workplaces Dangerous Substances e-tool has been designed to help organisations understand their legal obligations and get advice on how to manage dangerous substances. By providing information about your company, you can obtain tailored information on risks, labelling, legislation, prevention and protection measures you should take.
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