What Health Risks Do Aviation Mechanics Face?
With an average of 102,465 flights occurring every day, the maintenance of the aircraft responsible for getting us from Point A to Point B is extremely important. Although we rarely interact with them as passengers, we owe the safety and timeliness of our flights to the approximately 131,500 aircraft mechanics and service technicians currently employed in the United States. We also have more than five times more heliports than any other country in the world.
It can be hard to truly understand just what it is they do beyond “fixing” the plane when a problem arises; when we’re seated on a Boeing 737 headed to Europe, we care more about arriving on time than the nuts and bolts of the actual work the aircraft mechanic is performing. Let’s take a look at some of the hazards of this crucial job.
Physical and Environmental Dangers
There is a famous quote that many individuals in the aviation industry are familiar with: “Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect.” When you’re working with the intricate systems within a jet engine, navigation system, or even the landing gear, a great deal can go wrong — for both the engineer and the passengers. Environmental factors such as extreme heats and colds can lead to serious health problems (heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and heat cramps can all cause mechanics to make mistakes, at the very least), but the real danger lies in chemical exposure.
The chemicals present in lubricating oils and hydraulic fluids is quite harmful, both to touch and to inhale. Contact dermatitis can occur after as little as one second of exposure, and the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) can easily exacerbate the situation. Most notable is the constant use of asbestos in the aviation industry due to its amazing industrial properties; its tensile strength surpasses that of steel, and it has tremendous thermal stability, thermal and electrical resistance, and is non-flammable. Unfortunately, asbestos is also exceptionally toxic.
It’s vital that aircraft mechanics are well aware of the materials they’re working with. Asbestos exposure, particularly over long periods of time, can lead to mesothelioma, a cancer of the lungs; the symptoms dry coughing or wheezing, shortness of breath (dyspnea), respiratory complications, pain in the chest or abdomen, and fever or night sweats. Tragically, only 9% of patients survive more than five years beyond their diagnosis; those commercials advertising law firms that deal with mesothelioma wrongful death suits are designed for workers in industries such as aviation.
Aviation mechanics are exposed to a higher number of threats than most other professions. The physical dangers of working with such heavy and dangerous machinery can lead to illness, disability (which can make life significantly more difficult as people with disabilities earn around 70% less annually than those without disabilities), and even death. Luckily, there are more than 7,000 urgent care centers ready to treat a variety of illnesses and injuries. The next time you’re sitting on an airplane and you feel yourself getting annoyed at a mechanical delay, take a moment to be grateful that your biggest worry is being late!