Airport worker locked into plane hold could have died, case hears

Loading supervisor signed off hold was empty without properly checking

The supervisor sued for unfair dismissal arising from the incident on October 5th, 2016 at an un-named Irish airport. Photograph: iStock

The supervisor sued for unfair dismissal arising from the incident on October 5th, 2016 at an un-named Irish airport. Photograph: iStock

 

An airport worker who slipped into an aircraft hold for a sleep could have died after he was mistakenly locked in by a colleague shortly before the aircraft was due to take off, a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) case heard.

The worker had a lucky escape after a passenger on board heard loud banging and shouting coming from the locked hold.

A loading supervisor had signed off that the hold was empty without properly checking and he was sacked for gross misconduct as a result by his employer, a service provider.

The supervisor sued for unfair dismissal arising from the incident on October 5th, 2016 at an un-named Irish airport.

However, WRC adjudication officer, Brian Dalton found that a reasonable employer could dismiss an employee for such a serious breach.

In his findings, Mr Dalton said “unless a passenger had heard the load banging and shouts of that employee, a fatality could have occurred”.

“The supervisor had a duty to check the hold. His failure to adequately and thoroughly complete that check was a very serious omission. The holds were locked, and an employee trapped in the forward hold.”

He stated: “The signing of the loading instructions document by the claimant stating that the forward hold was empty was clearly not the case.”

Mr Dalton said the omission was a serious breach of policy and clearly gave rise to a serious safety incident.

“On balance a reasonable employer would class this omission as gross misconduct.”

Mitigating circumstances

The company told the WRC the employee in the six-foot wide hold could have died “if the oxygen in that hold had been turned off”.

“The loading supervisor is responsible for signing off for the unloading and the loading of the aircraft,” the employer said. “A thorough check would have clearly shown that an employee was asleep in the forward hold.”

The loading supervisor accepted that the incident was serious but claimed the company refused to take account of mitigating circumstances concerning the actions of the other employee.

He claimed management had failed to move that employee away from active loading when earlier he was found sleeping in a loading truck. And he said he did check the hold and saw no one. He was shocked later to discover there was a man in the hold, he said.

The man argued that if he had made mistakes, “there were also checks and balances in the operating procedures that contributed to this serious incident”.

“In those circumstances a final written warning and retraining would have been a more just decision,” he argued.