Opinion

Safe helicopter operations and human complacency

Cowie_Mike_web_2
Executive committee member of IOSH’s Offshore Group

As part of an emergency response team which also takes part in helideck operations, we are highly trained to be aware of the dangers both from helicopters landing and taking off, but also on how complacency could endanger us or passengers, or indeed a helicopter.

The most dangerous part of helicopter operations is taking off and landing, and indeed loading and unloading bags or passengers.

Human nature dictates that sometimes passengers can be blinkered to the dangers of the rotating blades and where to walk. So, it is the responsibility of the helideck crew to lead them safely to and from the helicopter.

During helicopter operations, loose items should be removed from the landing area and nearby containers or storage systems should to be secured to a supporting structure. There is also a requirement that crane operations cease and cranes be put in the rest.

While not the norm, incidents have happened in the past. One example was a high-potential incident on an offshore rig during a normal crew change, which was the result of a few procedural and behavioural failures.

A helicopter was on deck and the passengers and cargo were offloaded without incident. The helicopter landing officer requested and received permission to load some of the manifested baggage and cargo inside the helicopter as the baggage area was insufficient. Once this was accomplished, the officer commenced the boarding of the inbound passengers.

Before take-off the pilot noticed movement of the port crane boom as the crane operator attempted to make a lift from a supply boat alongside. The helicopter landing officer left the helideck to shut down and secure the crane.  Once this was complete, the helicopter landing officer returned to the helideck and noted that all the doors of the helicopter had been secured. After they had surveyed the surrounding area, the same officer gave the clearance signal for the helicopter to take off. 

The return flight to shore was completed uneventfully. But, as the pilot prepared to give the approval for the disembarkation of the passengers, he noticed that one of the passengers had some of the baggage on his lap secured by a seat belt.  After making a head count the pilot discovered that he had ten passengers whereas it should have been eight. The pilot ordered a cross check and requested that all passengers and cargo be weighed. It was determined that the helicopter had made the return flight with approximately 308kg on board – in excess of the aircraft’s maximum allowable limits. 

This is an example of where helicopter operations were not properly controlled and should never happen again as all UK operations fall under Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rules.

What lessons were learned? First, that helideck crew and all personnel involved with helicopter operations, including the admin staff, must be aware of where their safe positions are. Second that it is crucial that all procedures are followed as stated by the CAA.

 

Mike Cowie CMIOSH is executive member of IOSH’s Offshore Group. He is also a scaffold supervisor/safety for Stork Technical Services 

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