Foreign Objects Debris (FOD) In Your Workplace Can Be Dangerous

Recently, I found myself at Dallas airport (DFW for those of you used to the international airport monikers). Sipping my coffee, I did what we all do, watched the people, the planes, and the mayhem as travelers passed by me in a hurry to get to the next place.

At the front of a gate from where my plane sat was an illuminated sign stating ‘FOD Walk Every Flight.’ In the world of acronyms, FOD stands for Foreign Object Debris.

What Are Foreign Objects Debris, and Who Cares?

Defined by the Federal Aviation Association, Foreign Object Debris is any object, live or not, located in an inappropriate location in the airport environment that can injure airport or air carrier personnel and damage aircraft.

This ‘FOD Walk Every Flight’ sign triggered a conversation in my head about safety and particularly a hazard recognition and identification.

So bear with me as I attempt to connect the dots between the airport sign in Dallas and your workplace.

FOD in Your Workplace

As you read this post, I want you to look around your workplace and see if there are objects that are in places where they are not supposed to be and represent a hazard to those who come in to contact with it.

Many workplace hazards hide in plain sight, and they create problems for us mainly because we just aren’t looking for them. If we train ourselves and everyone around us to look for those dangers that are often right in front of us, multiple studies show that we create safer workplaces.

This is called Visual Literacy.  A study conducted at a Cummins Inc. manufacturing site in the US is convincing. People have blind spots to everyday dangers in the workplace.

At The Airport

Foreign Object Debris includes a wide range of material, including loose hardware, pavement fragments, catering supplies, building materials, rocks, sand, pieces of luggage, and even wildlife.

FOD is found at terminal gates, cargo aprons, taxiways, runways, and run-up pads.

The three main areas that need specific attention are:

  • Runway FOD – this relates to various objects (fallen from aircraft or vehicles, broken ground equipment, birds, etc.) that are present on a runway that may adversely affect fast-moving aircraft (during take-off and landing). Runway FOD has the greatest potential of causing damage.
  • Taxiway/Apron FOD – while this type of FOD may seem less harmful than the previous one, it should be noted that jet blast can move small objects onto the runway.
  • Maintenance FOD – this relates to various objects, such as tools, materials, or small parts) that are used in maintenance activities (e.g., plane maintenance, construction works, etc.) and can cause damage to the plane.

Effects of Foreign Object Debris

FOD can cause damage in several ways, the most notable being:

  • Damaging plane engines if ingested;
  • Cutting plane tires;
  • Lodging in plane mechanisms preventing them from operating properly;
  • Injuring people after being propelled by a jet blast or prop wash.

The resulting damage is estimated to cost the aerospace industry $4 billion a year.

A dramatic example of FOD damage is the loss of the Air France Concorde, which struck FOD on the runway during take-off from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport in 2000.

At Your Workplace

Did you see anything (foreign objects debris?) in your working environment that shouldn’t be there? We can often get complacent and fail to notice the odd change in our environment because we aren’t paying attention. “After all, ‘safety’ is someone else job, right?”

Or perhaps we notice something but quickly dismiss it, or at the very least, we don’t ascribe any importance to it. “After all, it’s never caused a problem before.”

By the way, after an incident involving something that was hiding in plain sight, this statement is quickly converted into “It was just a matter of time before someone got hurt!”

Hindsight is 20/20

Contributory factors of FOD – At the Airport  and Many Work Yards

Many factors can affect the presence and handling of FOD, e.g.:

  • Poor maintenance of buildings, equipment, and aircraft.
  • Pressure on staff not to delay movements for inspection.
  • Weather (e.g., FOD may be created by strong winds or may be blown onto the airfield, or its detection can be hampered by adverse weather).
  • Presence of uncontrolled (e.g., contractors’) vehicles on the airfield.
  • Inadequate staff training.

Back to your workplace

Did you take a look at the Cummins study?

Understanding how our visual biases come into play is an integral part of becoming more visually literate. We do not fully observe all the details when we look at something, whether that is a piece of art or a workplace scene.

We use our personal experiences and memory to fill in gaps and details, particularly if it is a place or a scene that we are accustomed to seeing often.

If a machine operator looks at the same work area and piece of equipment every day for weeks, months, or years, it can be assumed that they know the work area and machinery well but are not necessarily seeing all the details anymore.

Sometimes it is the fine details – and our inattention or “blindness” to them – that poses a hazard that can result in an injury or worse.

Defenses against FOD at the Airport

Defenses against FOD include the following activities:

  • Regular and frequent inspection of the airfield, including aircraft maneuvering areas and adjacent open spaces.
  • Suspension of runway operations upon notification to air traffic control about FOD on or near the runway until FOD has been removed and the runway inspected, as necessary.
  • Regular and frequent inspection of the airfield buildings and equipment and immediate repair or withdrawal from the service of items likely to create FOD.
  • Inspection of the parking gate to ensure that it is free of FOD, including ground equipment, and of ice, snow or other material capable of reducing braking action
  • Removal of FOD as soon as it is identified.
  • Use of constant inspection systems

Back to your workplace

Where does all this leave us?

Where it leaves us is that it demonstrates that we can always do more in terms of training people to be aware of their surroundings. Cummins’ simple “Find It – Fix It” hazard recognition initiative would be a good start if you are looking for inspiration.

As you looked through the factors that can affect the presence of FOD at the airport and the defenses against it being there, I am sure that the comparison with your workplace became obvious.

There is no point reinventing the wheel here and these best practices are often worth their weight in gold, especially when you combine this with Heinrich’s Accident Pyramid and the enormous benefits that can be realized when you start to mitigate or eliminate hazards in the workplace.

The problem is, of course, you have to see them first.

Go find that wood in the trees.