Tool and FOD control are important elements of a safe helicopter maintenance environment. A tool left in a helicopter or FOD laying on the flight line or hangar floor can cause damage to the aircraft or personnel. Many maintenance facilities have tool and FOD control programs in place, and SMS requirements will make operations focus even more on the issue.
This month’s issue of HeliMx has two articles discussing products that can help manage tools and equipment in a maintenance shop. Although these products are definitely a way to take tool control to the next level, purchasing hi-tech equipment is not the key to implementing an effective tool and FOD control program.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that Snap-On’s Level 5 ATC and CribMaster’s Inventory Management System aren’t good products. They are. In fact, I wish we had had them when I was working as a mechanic. They would have made life a lot easier for us and the tool room attendants.
The bottom line is that in order to have an effective tool and FOD control program, you need to have buy in from everyone. A manager may decide to have the maintenance shop implement a tool and FOD control program, but unless mechanics see that everyone is on board, the program is doomed to fail. What good is having a written policy on FOD prevention when you see the director of maintenance walking across the hangar kicking a bolt laying on the floor and not even bothering to pick it up? Why bother making the employees shadow their tool boxes if they aren’t given the time or material to shadow them in the first place?
Here are just a few ideas to help launch (or maintain) a good tool and FOD control program.
First, the policy must be written. Word of mouth policy just won’t do. A shop supervisor telling the new mechanic, “Pick up FOD and make sure you don’t lose any tools,” is not going to accomplish much. If tool box shadowing is to be required, clarify what is expected. If marking tools is necessary for identifying lost tools, make sure everyone knows how it is to be done and how to address items that cannot be marked (like small hex keys for example). How will tools be inventoried? Once a day? Before and after each job? Will supervisors perform daily or random checks? Write it down!
Second, there must be a written policy discussing corrective action for non-compliance. Discuss supervisors’ and mechanics’ responsibilities and corrective action for non-compliance. The most important part of this is to follow through with corrective action immediately and uniformly. It’s a basic leadership skill, and important to successfully enforcing any policy. If your company manual says that an employee will get a written reprimand for the first offense, be sure that happens. Letting Joe Mechanic slide because he is a “good ‘ol boy” sends the message to Joe that the company is not really serious about the policy and leads to the disrespect from the other employees towards that supervisor.
There should also be a policy for what to do once a tool is reported missing. In our shop, all of the aircraft that the mechanic worked on since the previous tool box inventory was performed were “down” until the tool was recovered. In the event a tool was not found, only the facility manager could authorize the release of the aircraft, and it was a responsibility he did not take lightly.
Finally, I would suggest having a policy that allows for the reporting of lost tools without fear of reprimand. After all, the ultimate goal of a tool control program should be to avoid the situation where a tool is left in a helicopter after maintenance. If your company responds to a missing tool report by reprimanding the mechanic who reports it, it is sending the wrong message. Reporting a missing tool should never be treated as a negative, so long as it is reported immediately after the tool is discovered lost. (Reporting a missing tool because you haven’t been able to find it for the last month doesn’t count.)
Do you have a tool and FOD control program in your facility? Does it incorporate technology as part of that program? We’d like to hear from you
Thanks for reading!
Joe Escobar | Editorial Director