Falls are one of the leading causes of occupational injuries and deaths each year according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These include workers who have fallen due to unprotected sides, improperly constructed walking or working surfaces, falling off ladders, scaffolding, etc., all due to failure to use proper fall protection.
Since aircraft are large engineering marvels, their servicing and maintenance require workers to often work at quite high elevations. They normally follow the strict OSHA requirements of fall avoidance and protection. There are many types of fall protection methods that are used extensively in the aviation industry. One of them is the vacuum anchor.
The vacuum anchor is an OSHA compliant non-penetrating fall protection system. It is self-contained, easy to install, practical, and flexible without compromise to personnel safety or productivity. The anchor is suitable for use while servicing and maintaining the aircraft. Often a fall protection lanyard is included with this system.
Vacuum anchors use suction cups on clean and smooth non-porous surfaces that provide a tie-off point for fall protection equipment. They do not scratch the surface so they can be used when performing work on aircraft. The system uses a compressed air source from a shop line or portable cylinder to create the seal. A gauge indicator turns green to indicate when the vacuum seal is intact and the lifeline is safe to use. This allows the creation of a safe location to anchor their lifeline. The mechanics then use a harness and lanyard to tie themselves and conduct inspections or servicing work on top of the aircraft safely.
When workers have to work on the top level of the aircraft, two vacuum anchors are used, one each at either end of the fuselage. A horizontal lifeline is connected between these two anchors. This allows up to two workers to work simultaneously, who could work through the entire length of the fuselage without needing to disconnect and reconnect the anchors at another point as they work along. The single pad setup also allows for a mechanic to connect to the top or wing of the aircraft and perform maintenance or inspection work safely.
The new models of vacuum anchors have a built-in compressed air bottle that can create the required suction, without the need for an external compressed air source, so they are quite portable and self-contained.
The vacuum anchor practically eliminates the risk of damage to the aircraft during maintenance operations as they have rubber pads and a metal housing with an anchor point for securing a personal fall protection system.
Before the development of the vacuum anchor, much of the maintenance work performed on aircraft was ground-based. Lift buckets or platforms were attached to gantry cranes and personnel was raised to high levels so that they could perform their tasks. However, such moving cranes could damage the aircraft if the equipment would come in contact with the fuselage or wings of the aircraft.
The vacuum anchors are highly mobile and can easily be transported to other locations based on need. Even the first generation of vacuum anchors, at under 100 pounds, were much easier to handle than a 1,000-pound plus lift. Most recently introduced third-generation self-contained vacuum anchors weigh less than 20 pounds, much lighter than previous generations of vacuum anchors.
Not only the vacuum anchors are light but they save critical time as they allow work to be performed within a radius as far as the lanyard connecting the worker to the anchor extends. The horizontal lifeline setup is quite convenient, as it provides complete coverage of the fuselage or wing without the need to disconnect and reconnect the anchor.
In addition to the anchor’s portable and non-penetrating benefits, the latest models also incorporate anti-scuff and hydraulic fluid resistant pads, along with intrinsically safe electronics.
Some of the features of vacuum anchor are:
Every aviation mechanic is trained in fall protection procedures in general, and the use of vacuum anchors in particular. Although lift equipment is still used when necessary, for tasks over the wings and the top of the airplane, the vacuum anchor is a safer, more efficient device. Whether they need to replace a broken light on top of a jumbo aircraft or perform routine maintenance, the workers will always be able to quickly, and easily position themselves where they need to be, with no danger of an accidental fall.
The vacuum anchor is still a relatively young technology, but in the short time it has been around, it has already brought about a change in the way technicians perform work on the aircraft.
e2b calibration can perform repair and maintenance of all types of fall systems, including vacuum anchors to the highest industry standards while being reliable and cost-effective. Our verifiable services are unmatched in the industry. We are registered with ANAB. We are also ANSI/NCSL Z540-1-1994 certified. We have the NIST Traceable Wide scope of ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation. Contact e2b calibration for more information.