Those in the airline industry, particularly those that work on the ramp, are certainly familiar with fuel trucks and fuel farms and their role in the filling and refilling of baggage tugs. In case you’re not, these contractors and facilities are essential to helping thousands of flights get off the ground every day. So while most people are just hopping on a plane for their next vacation, fleet service is making sure their bags follow them to their destinations, among other vital airport ground functions. And it’s not just bags these workers encounter: the tugs that pull those bags run on one of two types of energy – electricity or fuel. Different airport locations have different methods of filling their baggage tugs. In some cities, fuel is delivered to the tugs at dedicated times throughout shifts, while other locations require ramp agents to access a fuel farm or baggage tug filling station in order to refuel. Working on and around fuel contractors and fuel farms exposes workers to highly combustible liquids and gasses that require extreme precautions to keep themselves and those around them safe. Fuel spillage may also create unsafe work areas. When fuel is spilled on the group and not properly cleaned from the area a hazardous work area is created.

At Schwarz & Schwarz, we’re focused on those that work within unsafe conditions and dangerous chemicals on the job, and we’re doing our part to keep them safe through research and information sharing. To better help protect operators from potential risks on the job, we’re sharing the types of accidents our clients experience and ways to prevent the most common injuries.

First Things First, What is a Fuel Farm? 

Fuel contractors and fuel farms are essential facilities that store and distribute fuels, such as gasoline and diesel. While they’re extremely necessary, they also pose significant safety risks to the operators working in them if they are not kept in the safest working conditions.

Some accidents are unpreventable, but many of those associated with fuel farms are. What’s most important is maintaining a safe environment to prevent these accidents from ever occurring? 

Types of Accidents on a Fuel Farm

Many fuel contractor and fuel farm-related accidents are a result of an area  being inadequately maintained. As a result, we see a number of various safety hazards for the workers while handling the gasoline, diesel fuel, LP-gas, and other petroleum products they provide. In these cases, some of the most common types of accidents include: 

  1. Fires and Explosions
    All fuel is obviously a flammable substance, so any spark or heat source in the immediate area can ignite it, causing a fire or explosion. The poor maintenance of equipment can lead to deterioration, leaks, and spills which will significantly increase the risk of a fire or explosion.
  2. Slips, Trips, and Falls
    It is not uncommon for fuel contractors and fuel farm operators to create spillage. Workers are often required to climb ladders, work on elevated platforms, and walk on slippery surfaces due to weather or other factors. Improperly maintained spillage areas create slick surfaces and may  lead to slips, trips, and falls. These areas become even more hazardous to ramp workers when these fuel covered areas are inadequately illuminated.
  3. Chemical Exposure

In addition to the gasses themselves, fuel contractors and fuel farms use chemicals, additives and solvents which can be hazardous to workers’ health. Work areas which have inadequate ventilation and poor storage facilities, increase chemical exposure and may lead to health issues.

  1. Equipment Malfunction
    Fuel contractors and fuel farms have a variety of different equipment types such as pumps, valves, and tanks which require regular inspection and maintenance to ensure they function efficiently and safely. If this equipment is outdated, damaged, or malfunctions go unnoticed by workers, it can lead to serious – though easily preventable – accidents.

Ways to Make Fuel Farms Safer for Ramp Workers 

A deliberate safety program is the best way to help keep fuel farms safe. The more training and awareness both fuel farm operators and ramp workers have about best practices and the risks associated with these facilities and the daily activities they’re performing, the better chance there is to prevent accidents. Here are some things to include in a safety program at your facility to make a fuel farm safer for everyone:

  • Routine Maintenance & Inspections: It is essential that fuel farm equipment is regularly maintained and inspected. Both fuel contractors and fuel farms across the country have standards that must be followed. Maintenance teams should identify and fix any potential issues before they become problems. Annual cleanings also ensure the tanks are running smoothly, and all equipment should also be replaced when outdated or damaged. Regularly changed mats, pads or other safety devices may be used to reduce spillage buildup creating highly slick areas.
  • Proper Training and Supervision: Before ever stepping onto a fuel farm, workers should receive proper training on best practices during operations and emergency response protocols. They must understand what to look for and how to handle the equipment properly to minimize associated risks. Supervisors should also continue to ensure that workers follow safety procedures and use the appropriate protective equipment while on the job.
  • Adequate Lighting and Signage: The installation of proper lighting is essential to maintain visibility on the ramp and at fuel farms. This simple consideration can prevent slips, trips, and falls. Clear signage should also be posted to indicate hazardous areas and procedures so these items stay top of mind for all workers.
  • Proper Chemical Storage and Handling: When tugs or equipment is being fueled, workers must take extra precautions and ensure personal protective equipment is used when needed. Adequate ventilation is also a must, particularly in confined spaces 
  • Emergency Response Plan: Despite the best precautionary measures, the reality is that accidents happen. So when accidents DO happen it is imperative that there is a plan in place for quick, efficient and immediate action. Ramp agents should be trained on emergency procedures and the company in charge of fuel contracting or maintaining the fuel farm must ensure that the appropriate emergency equipment is always readily available.

Regular maintenance and inspection, proper training and supervision, and an emergency response plan are all necessary steps to make fuel farms safer for workers. By creating a safer environment for these individuals to work, you can limit the inevitable risks they face and instill confidence in your teams.

If accidents do occur, Schwarz & Schwarz is here for you. With over 100+ years of combined legal experience supporting airport union members inside and outside the courtroom, we know what it takes to get you the compensation you deserve. Contact our trial attorneys today if you have been injured as a result of an unsafe fuel farm. We understand your injuries, because we fight hard to prevent them!