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Fuel tank report leads to safer maintenance
(with the permission of Air Force Today, publishers of AIRPOWERint.com, January 2001)

A report into F-111 fuel tank maintenance at RAAF Base Amberley has called for significant significant changes to the safety maintenance procedures, designed to protect personnel using potentially harmful substances in the confined space of the tanks.

Concerns were initially raised in January 2000 after the RAAF received medical reports that a number of maintenance personnel were showing symptoms possibly related to the chemical process in resealing the fuel tanks. Fuel tank entries were immediately suspended until current procedures could be assessed and safety assured.

An investigative team consisting of RAAF personnel, Australian Public Service members and Sverdrup Technology Australia personnel, supported by other specialist organisations, was organised to review safety procedures for fuel tank maintenance, and this review culminated with The Development of F-111 Fuel Tank Maintenance Safety Procedures report.

The Investigating Officer leading the team WGCDR Secker, said the new procedures outlined in the report were implemented at the earliest possible point.

"We actually implemented the changes to fuel tank maintenance procedures in September 2000, and since then we have been working on the report which also serves to document the rationale for the changes in procedure," he said.

"Some of the major changes that came out of the report include an increased level of aircraft preparation, improved ventilation, a higher level of protective clothing, reduced fuel exposure standards and an improved health management program and the exclusion of females from performing fuel tank work for health reasons."

The investigative team responsible for compiling the report was comprised of RAAF personnel, APS members and private contractors and is separate to from the Board of Inquiry that is also examining the issue. The investigative team responsible for compiling the report is separate from the Board of Inquiry that is also examining the issue.

"The main difference between our work and that of the Board of Inquiry is the fact that the Board has been formally appointed under the Defence Inquiry Regulations whereas our work was commissioned by OC 501WG as a matter of urgency to enable fuel tank maintenance to continue safely.

The Board is also looking are looking at systemic and health management issues whereas our focus was on grass roots safety issues

"The Air Force is committed to providing a safe workplace for its personnel," continued WGCDR Secker, "and the investment of time and effort in this investigation is indicative of that commitment.

"We now have confidence in the current safety procedures because of the rigour that has been put into the design of the fuel tank maintenance safety solutions."

The core members of the Investigative team were Phillip Reed, Al Bowers, FLGOFF Damien Hare, Steve Hunt and Mike Noble.

 

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