VFA-213 Blacklions: Safety Issues and Programs

By AM1(AW) Gregory J. Zybak

Since deploying aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) as a representative of the Safety Department, I have witnessed and noted several recurring safety issues. The two major areas of concern in which most injuries occur within the skin of the ship and the flight deck. Even with awareness of the potential hazards from training to mitigate dangerous situations, we have still seen numerous injuries during deployment.

Safety Issues

INSIDE THE SHIP: Within the skin of the ship, personnel will encounter both obvious and subtle risks. Ladder wells always present a common and unavoidable area for hazards. Sailors should remember that maintaining three points of contact is essential when climbing and descending ladders to reduce the possibility of injury. Injuries to ankles, knees, and wrists from falling or missing steps are a persistent trend. Personnel not paying attention to hand placement and where others are walking have been contributing factors to these injuries. Additionally, warmer temperatures at sea can cause condensation on passageways, catwalks and ladders which only exacerbates an existing hazard. Ensuring that all shipboard personnel are provided the appropriate information and training about how weather can affect conditions inside the ship will help limit these incidents. Finally, unexpected increases or fluctuations in air pressure throughout the ship can lead to doors, hatches, and scuttles to close without warning, posing a danger to Sailors. Personnel not paying attention to hand placement, accompanied with lack of positive control of hatches, have received lacerations, sprains, and in some cases loss of an appendage along these common access points.

The hangar bay is another major area of concern; personnel transiting the hangar bay encounter a range of potential hazards. These potential hazards range from aircraft flight control surfaces, general servicing equipment, tie-down chains, stored aircraft equipment, fuel and hydraulic fluid all of which pose a significant hazard to personnel. A Sailor’s eyes have to be continuously on the move, and their heads constantly on a swivel in the hangar bay. Personnel have hit their heads on flight control surfaces, tripped over tie-down chains, had legs pinned under stored aircraft equipment that shifted under the motion of the ship, and had fuel or hydraulic fluid get in their eyes. Accidents can happen, but maintaining situational awareness, wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and being in tune to you surroundings can help prevent these sorts of things from occurring. Moreover, experienced Sailors need to watch out for junior Sailors, providing them the necessary mentorship to increased understanding of how important safety is aboard the ship and in every aspect of their lives.

THE FLIGHT DECK: Working on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Dynamic operational tempos and ever-changing environmental conditions continuously shape and reshape the hazards presented to flight deck personnel.

The first line of defense while on the flight deck is PPE; a cranial with goggles, leather gloves, steel-toed boots, float coat, long sleeves, and pants are required to take part in flight operations. Improper wear of PPE or degraded PPE (worn-out Velcro straps on cranials and worn tips or soles of boots) is not only a common occurrence, but unnecessarily exposes personnel to hazards, including flying debris, aircraft fluids, tie-down chains, arresting cables, and steam. The appropriate condition and wear of float coats is important for the safety of Sailors wearing the float coat. It is not only the responsibility of the wearer, but also those around them. Some float-coat discrepancies have included missing carbon dioxide (CO2) actuating device securing nuts, shear wire not installed or broken on the CO2 device, and the improper wear of or securing of the side snaps on the float coat while on deck. Personnel report that comfort and temperature have been the causal factors behind improper wear of the float coats; however these factors are no excuse for sacrificing personal safety.

During aircraft start up, taxi, launch and recovery, many events are occurring simultaneously, creating a number of potential hazardous situations. Common concerns include personnel in the way of taxiing aircraft, standing behind aircraft exhaust, standing too close to a jet blast deflector during aircraft run-up, entering the landing area during a recovery cycle, or crossing the foul line while an aircraft is being launched off the catapult. Complacency and lack of training or proficiency on the flight deck have been the stand-out causal factors related to these issues. Vigilance among experienced Sailors is required to ensure the safety of all personnel on the flight deck.

A common environmental issue, on the flight deck is heat; proper hydration, specifically by having a hydration pack such as a Camelbak© while topside is essential. Ensuring those assigned to flight-deck duty are allowed regular breaks to get out of the heat – ideally into an air conditioned space – is another step toward preventing heat-related incidents.

Safety Programs

Flight-deck awareness training, personnel qualification standards, and mentorship are tools we must utilize in order to disseminate the necessary knowledge to inexperienced Sailors. It is every Sailor’s responsibility to maintain awareness of what is going on around them. And, it is everyone’s responsibility to look out for those around them and maintain the standards to ensure safe conduct when aboard the ship. All it takes is one correcting interaction to interrupt the chain of events that could lead to injuries and mishaps. Taking steps to mitigate these hazards should be, and must be, as important as the mission itself.

About michael.morris