1. Introduction

Working in airports exposes you to a wide range of hazards, many of which are unique to this area of customs activities. There are many things which you need to consider to make sure you can work safely and avoid hurting yourself, or other people, at all locations handling air traffic.

This section groups the hazards under two main headings:
Usually you will receive specific training before working airside (i.e. on or near aircraft). This is because there are specific hazards and what you do could affect not only your own safety but also the safety of the aircraft and of the people travelling on it. Drivers will also be required to take an additional eyesight test (concentrating on colour differentiation between red and green).

2. Working on the tarmac

What are the hazards?

The most serious hazards associated with working in airports are encountered on the tarmac, which you should not work on or cross unless absolutely necessary. Find out if you need the prior authorisation of the airport operator — for example, in manoeuvring areas. You should follow local safety guidelines and be particularly aware of the following hazards:

Moving aircraft:
  • Remember that aircraft cannot stop as easily or as quickly as road vehicles, even when they are taxiing or being towed at low speeds.
  • The pilot’s view of the tarmac might also be restricted.
  • Aircraft always have right of way.
Moving aircraft:
  • Make sure you understand the apron markings and signals given to aircraft when manoeuvring.
  • Remember that when turning the nose and wings of the aircraft will make a wide arc beyond the actual turning area.
  • Never walk or drive a vehicle in front of moving aircraft.
  • If you need to cross the tarmac when an aircraft is taxiing, you should let it get well past you and cross behind it. Vehicles are usually prohibited on runways.
  • Moving vehicles: Many other types of vehicle could be present on the tarmac, such as:
    • aircraft towing trucks;
    • mobile aircraft steps;
    • fuel tankers;
    • baggage trucks;
    • cargo-handling vehicles;
    • emergency vehicles.
  • Although these vehicles should not move at high speeds, you might not hear them approach due to the noise from aircraft.
  • Some of them will be electrically powered and make no noise at all.
  • Others can be hard to manoeuvre.
  • As the ‘rules of the road’ are often not observed by vehicles on the tarmac, they can be particularly hazardous.
  • If you drive an official vehicle you may need additional training and a special test to allow you to drive within certain airport areas.
Moving Vehicles:
  • The best way to avoid being struck by a moving vehicle is to keep alert, listen and look all round you, particularly when emerging from buildings or sheds onto the tarmac.
  • High-visibility clothing is usually mandatory in all outside areas of airports.
  • Where safe areas or walkways are marked on the ground, you should always use them.
  • Remember that aircraft or vehicles manoeuvring around them in restricted space might not always be able to avoid crossing these markings, so remain vigilant.
Aircraft engines and propellers:
  • Aircraft engines are very dangerous. You must keep well away from them — especially while they are running or if they are likely to start up.
  • All aircraft engines create suction which can drag you in. This danger exists both in front of and to the side of the engine. This is known as the ‘ingestion zone’ and can be lethal.
  • Engines also emit either propeller wash or exhaust blast (jet engines). This can emit great heat and force over considerable distances. The force has been known to move other equipment or to blow out the windows of vehicles.
  • You may be unable to see revolving propellers at all.
Aircraft engines and propellers:
  • Keep well away from aircraft engines. If you have to approach them, you should do so when the engines are not running, from the side of the aircraft, but away from the engines — not the front or rear.
  • Always wait until the wheels are chocked.
  • If you need to cross from one side of an aircraft to the other, you should walk around it, via
    • the rear of propeller-driven aircraft (take care if there are propellers at the back too), or
    • the front of jet-propelled aircraft, in case the engines start unexpectedly
Remember: NEVER walk near an aircraft while its engines are running.
Helicopter rotors:
  • Rotor blades droop downwards when revolving — even at quite high speeds — and can also give off a dangerous downwash which can sweep you off your feet or move other objects around.
  • This is hazardous both when the aircraft is stationary and when it is moving.
  • There can also be a risk of injury from engine exhaust heat and fumes.
  • Rear rotors move at extremely high speeds and can be almost impossible to see. This makes them a far more common cause of injury than main rotors.
  • Dust and even quite large objects can be sucked into the air and blown around with considerable force.
Helicopter rotors:
  • Do not approach a helicopter until the crew signal that it is safe to do so.
  • Always approach from the ‘Safe’ zone where the pilot can see you.
  • Keep low at all times, remembering to remove any non-safety headgear and to secure all loose items.

Safe Acceptable Dangerous
Aircraft noise:
  • Prolonged exposure to aircraft noise can lead to serious damage to your hearing.
  • Jet engines can produce up to 120 decibels of high-frequency noise, enough to cause permanent damage if you are particularly close or exposed to it for long periods.
  • Remember: aircraft noise could mask the approach of other aircraft or vehicles.
Aircraft noise:
  • You should always wear hearing protection, preferably ear defenders, when working on the tarmac.
  • Some areas will be designated as mandatory ear defence zones and will be clearly marked as such.
  • Limit the amount of time you have to spend in a noisy environment — even when wearing hearing protection.
  • Prolonged exposure to lower levels of noise can be irritating and you might find ear defenders uncomfortable to wear for long periods.
  • Remember: when you are wearing hearing protection you might not be able to hear approaching danger — use your eyes at all times.
General hazards:
  • Slips and falls — The tarmac is usually smooth, so when wet or icy it could be slippery. Oil or small fuel spills could make it equally slippery under good conditions.
  • Lighting — Some areas of the airfield might be poorly lit so as to avoid confusing approaching aircraft. This could add to the risks already identified. Take particular care near aircraft as the tips and edges of wings could be difficult to see.
General hazards:
  • Slips and falls — Always wear approved footwear. Take care when it is wet or cold and look out for spills.
  • Lighting — Proceed carefully and always give aircraft a wide margin, particularly if you are driving.

3. Working on aircraft

Usually you should not have to inspect cargo or take samples on an aircraft, but if you do, always make sure that the pilot, ground crew and any other operatives in the vicinity know what you intend to do.

3.1 Gaining access

Access inside an aircraft Access the cargo hold of aircraft

3.2 Working on board

Several hazards are common to all areas of aircraft. Aircraft equipment: Passenger areas: Overhead bins and stowage: Toilets: Galleys: Holds: Remember: refer to your national legislation and guidance when working in this dangerous environment.

You must refer to the legislation and the guidance of your national administration for more information.

The guidance contained in this section intended to serve as a general reminder of the risks that are sometimes encountered during the examination and sampling procedure and of the safety equipment that you should use and precautions that you should take.

Version Date Changes
1.0 12.10.2012 First version
1.1 15.07.2021 Update - text modification