Monday, February 21, 2011

February 21st

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
A couple of years ago I wrote an article entitled ‘How many people can you fit in a tro-tro?’ The premise behind the article was ‘one more, one more, one more’; that is, a mate can always fit ‘one more’ into the apparently over-occupied vehicle.  Such acts are common, as is the incredible ability to load a vehicle vertically with every conceivable contraption, vegetable, household item or animal.  It is not unusual to see a pickup truck loaded to height of three metres or more, and as for the Benz busses I am left wondering as to how they conceived that it may be possible to load a vehicle up to more than twice its original vertical extent!

The ability to squish, squeeze and pile people and their belongings into and onto our vehicles is only matched by the ability to load heavy goods vehicles beyond their axle limits.  We have proved beyond a doubt that the ‘limit’ given by the manufacturer is easily exceed – so much so that it is possible to break an axle whilst travelling at high speeds.  Of course, any damage to the road surfaces during these ‘Experiments’ is purely accidental!

So, when we get asked ‘how many people can you get into a two-seat aircraft?’ we are often frowned upon for stating, categorically, ‘two’.  Furthermore, when we explain that there is a ‘seat weight limit’ and then we add ‘and a baggage limit too’, people are incredulous.  Let us be fair, an Astra car has 5 seats and can carry ten people, plus baggage, and a goat.  Not to be funny, but such sights leave me with my jaw dropped open.

In the Aviation industry weight limits and seat limits are a part of safe operations that we simply do not ‘tamper with’.  We like to still be able to talk about our today tomorrow morning!   There are some exceptions, like the Israeli pilot of a 747 who, in May 1991 got one thousand and eight seven people on board his plane… but he made a compromise, he pulled out all of the seats, and sat them on the floors.  That case was exceptional, a case of evacuation – but note that he realised that in order to carry the weight he would need to shed some load.  No passenger baggage, and the safety infringement of passengers without seatbelts was weighed off against an emergency situation.  I do not believe, not even in my wildest thoughts, that we are loading our terrestrial vehicles to dangerous levels in order to save lives.  No, we see the acts we see due to several factors.

The main motivation factor seems to be greed.  Some may call it ‘making a living’, however, you cannot call ‘putting other people’s lives and belongings in jeopardy for a few extra cedis’ making a living, no, it is greed.  The operators are simply trying to make an extra cedi or two along their way, regardless of the risk they put their passengers, their passengers’ belongings, the road and other people at.  That is GREED.

Another factor is ‘ignorance’.  Many of the users of the transport system are unaware of the actual dangers of overloading and treating human beings as if they are sardines.  The people themselves want to get to their destination and are prepared to take the discomfort of being part of a ‘Ghana Benz People Sandwich’ in order to achieve their goal.

The police and other authorities, charged with protecting the population, fail on a regular basis to enforce the ‘right thing’ and I can understand it, because when they stop a vehicle in ‘infringement’ of the law, the people on the bus may make a large fuss and ‘beg for’ the driver and mate.  Therefore, the law and safety are over-ridden by greed, ignorance and consequent acceptance that it is all part of the ‘status-quo’.

This week, we started two new members of staff.  We try to do an induction programme for all new members of staff.  We show them around the premises and cover the basics of safety around the airfield.  We do not cover everything; some things take years to learn about! 

Our induction to working with our operations starts with a welcome and an explanation of the basis of a successful operation.  It is interesting that not one person EVER has given the right answer when we ask ‘What is the basis of a successful company and working environment?’  We may get an answer of ‘attitude’, which is part of it or ‘’money’, which demonstrates a wrong approach. 

The one word that portrays success in all that we do is ‘Safety’.  Attitude is a part of that, as is cleanliness, but making money is not the basis of operations, it is the long term consequence of good operations.   We then talk about the name and purpose of the different locations on our site, we talk about the ‘rules’ at the site.  Rules are key to safety and successful operations.  At times a certain rule may be infringed, we all understand that, but the infringement of a rule must carry with it the understanding of the consequences.  However, breaching rules without mitigation against the consequence leads to a breach in safety.  You may ‘need’ to cut through an area not normally authorised, and so before doing so you inform why, when and how and put EXTRA safety measures into place BEFORE breaching the ‘standard rule’.

We do not allow ‘open toe’ shoes in our working areas. Why?  What good does it do the employer to impose such a regulation?  Frankly, it only directly protects the employee – and then you find the employee is the one complaining about the rules!  An employee wearing safety equipment is doing so to protect themselves.  No employer EVER goes into a workshop and says ‘all those wearing boots, take them off and go bare-foot’, for if they did the employees would be affronted at the employer putting their staff in danger.  Yet, when I go into a workshop with chale-wotties everywhere, and make a comment I have been told ‘this is Africa, and we can’t wear safety boots it is too hot’.  Well, if the company is to be successful, a safe working environment is a professional working environment and with it, albeit a little slower than cutting corners, a successful operation will emerge.  In the same way, fitting an extra person on a tro-tro will only lead to more damage to the vehicle, more deaths on the road and more damage to the road surface – because a short-term vision of ‘making profit’ over ‘making a success’ is one of the main reasons that developments are not making the headway that they should.  Sadly, so many ‘get away’ with breaching safety that it becomes the ‘de facto’ – it needs to change, and sooner rather than after the next funeral.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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