Dangerous ground operations

I came across a friend of mine a few years ago that I noticed looked different from in the past. I didn’t often see this friend, as he lived hundreds of miles away. What I noticed was one of his fingers was missing. Interesting. I wondered out loud, how did that happen?

My friend explained to me that he was standing on a six-foot ladder about half way up when he stepped off of it catching his wedding band on the ladder. Even though it was a very short step down, it extended his hand and sliced off his finger entirely. Not a pretty sight.

I stopped wearing rings to work many years ago. I once stepped off a water wagon catching my ring finger on the top filler ring. Fortunately, it did not hold and I escaped with a very bruised finger. However, it was enough for me to realize just how close I had come to losing my wedding ring finger. The problem with rings is they become sharp around their edges from everyday wear. When caught and 200 pounds is pulling, it becomes a finger guillotine.

Another rule I have when working around batteries is to remove my metal watch. Once when I was removing a battery from the rear fuselage of a Pawnee the wrench, my watch, the airframe and the positive post of the battery all met at once. In less than a second the watch was “welded” to the airframe. I was able to break loose, but not before being severely burned at the wrist.

One other time that I will remember for the rest of my life was when loading fertilizer into my plane with an auger driven by the PTO shaft of a tractor. If you are guessing the PTO guard was missing, you are right and there is a very good reason why that guard should be there.

It was in February and I had on an old long sleeve shirt wearing it like a light jacket, open at the front. The tail of the shirt came in contact with the spinning PTO shaft and did its best to suck me into it. Fortunately for me, the shirt was old and tore away from my body as I jerked upwards. The shirt was wound tightly around the shaft and only shirt remnants were left on me. I’ve heard of farmers getting caught in spinning PTO shafts and being literally beat to death. The tractor never changed its rpm and I doubt it would have even it my body had been caught in the wrapping around the shaft.

I suppose all sorts of rules can be implemented to be safe around an ag-aviation operation. This workplace can be just as dangerous on the ground as in the air and involve even more people.

Mandating not wearing jewelry or loose fitting clothes at an ag-operation would be a start to having a safer operation. Simply not walking under the aircraft for any reason while the prop is spinning would be another good rule, but I know one that will be broken. If that is an absolute must, then a hand should touching the leading edge of the wing at all times until ducking down underneath. But, the problem with that is if you are checking something like the pump up under the aircraft, you can get distracted and upon exiting walk directly out into that spinning prop. It has happened before.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has suffered its first ag-aviation fatality for 2017. On March 19, a Mississippi pilot was killed while flying. I don’t know the details, but I’m sure it will eventually show up in the NTSB reports. Regardless of the reason, we still have lost a pilot. My condolences go out to the pilot’s family and friends. Like the saying goes, you can never have too much runway or be too safe. Three causes of accidents: 1. Didn’t think, 2. Didn’t know, 3. Didn’t see.



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