It’s an age-old problem and one that can have serious aviation safety consequences, yet still today, ad hoc warehouse checks will frequently uncover compliance negligence: We are talking about how ULDs are treated during handling and flight preparation. Henrik Ambak, SVP, Cargo Operations Worldwide at Emirates, shares his message for the industry, urging for sustainable change.
How serious are we really with ULDs, regulatory compliance (airlines) and workplace safety (everybody)?
In these days of digital revolutions and integrated logistics we (still) seem to have issues with ensuring regulatory compliance and basic correct workplace safety consistently across our industry when we talk Unit Load Devices (ULDs).
This issue relates to airlines (operators), ground handling agents (GHAs), freight forwarders and transportation service providers (trucking companies), alike.
I guess all of us, from time to time, see loaded pallets and containers being shifted around with bare forklift blades or being placed directly on warehouse floors or being loaded in/out of flatbed trucks… Wrong!
Before you read any further, I totally appreciate that many players within our supply chain get it right, but far too many do not and hence a need to draw attention to this topic and motivate industry action.
ULDs are aircraft equipment
ULDs are, by definition, certified aircraft equipment, meeting very strict airworthiness regulations, and airlines are therefore by regulation obliged to use them strictly in accordance with the manufacturer’s Operating Instructions. And these, apart from a few container types which are designed to be forkliftable when moving empty ULDs over a short distance, do not foresee loaded ULDs sitting directly on the ground or being shifted around with bare forklift blades.
So much for the airline’s regulatory responsibility… Airlines have two more responsibilities that they share with GHAs and freight forwarders: workplace safety and prevention of damage to the cargo and the ULDs.
Be aware of how your ULDs are being handled!
That airlines do not consistently ensure proper handling of ULDs for their self-handling and outsourced handling activities, is mindboggling and shows how far we, in reality, are with being compliant despite the many certification/audit programs that exist in our industry.
But my key concern is actually not the compliance part but the workplace safety issue. We all, in our comfortable office chairs, have a major responsibility that the workplace we offer our warehouse or cargo terminal staff is safe and allows them to leave duty in the same good shape they started the workday, period.
How serious are you about workplace safety?
How do you create a risk assessment or a workplace safety review that clears the moving of a loaded ULD with bare forklift blades as safe? Close your eyes and imagine a 3-ton PMC (pallet) being moved just using forklift blades. The forklift moves backwards and, to get to the right place, the driver has to make a small turn. The turn gets a bit too tight, or he drives a bit too quickly while turning, and off slides the pallet. And if anybody is walking by in that moment, (serious) injury is guaranteed… along with damage to the cargo, the pallet, and the potential of damage to the facility.
The other classic question is: how do you get the forklift blades under a ULD placed directly on the floor without a solid risk of damaging the ULD or the cargo? The damaged cargo could be laptops or mobile phones and… before you know it, we could have a lithium battery fire on our hands.
Corrective action needs to happen now!
Industry action is required to ensure that all stakeholders that want (need) to handle ULDs are equipped with relevant equipment like roller-decks, castor decks, slave pallets, etc. A ULD on a slave pallet moved by a forklift can be a totally safe solution.
We should all ask ourselves:
Is our warehouse or cargo terminal operation safe?
Do I ensure that my staff will not be injured while being on duty?
Do I ensure that no unnecessary financial loss occurs from damages to ULDs or cargo due to wrong handling practices?
IATA, ASA, FIATA: Please coordinate focused action with your members.
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