Hello again. Welcome to part 2 of our blog series. Our last blog focused on trips, slips and falls in the workplace. Today we’ll be talking about something a bit less relatable but far more exciting. We’ll be analyzing the major Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) themes from the movie “Flight” namely, operating heavy machinery while intoxicated (biggest understatement ever), mechanical failure resulting in harm and other noteworthy issues which popped up throughout the movie. This will not be a movie review – we’ll leave the criticisms to the critics – although it is felt that the movie could have won at least one academy award but we digress.
The movie ‘Flight’, stars Denzel Washington as Captain William ‘Whip’ Whitaker (a former Navy pilot with exceptional skills and daredevil instincts). Whip (yeah we pitched marbles together) is a brilliant airline pilot who is also a drug addict and alcoholic. The audience shared the experience of Whip’s pre-flight preparations; his competence during the turbulent weather; his unbelievable handling of the crash landing and ultimately, how he faces the music. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, no problem. You should at least watch the trailer, Flight 2012. We’ll provide you with the juiciest bits so we can make all the references we want and you won’t be lost. At this point, it is our fiduciary responsibility to say, “Spoiler alert”. For example when we say awesome crash scene (ACS for short) we’re referring to this scene. I know right! The movie is centred on this ACS and whether or not it was caused by mechanical failure or Whip’s intoxication.
Let’s dive right in. The movie begins with a very explicit scene. A great… correction despicable way to start a master piece such as this. You’re probably expecting a clip right about now. Sorry to disappoint but we’re strictly PG13. Anyway, Whip woke up hung over, did some cocaine to perk himself up then went to fly the plane. He then proceeded to consume a screw driver (orange juice and vodka) while in the air. This was definitely a hazard with high risk to the passengers on board. You’re probably thinking they’re like the same thing, but they’re not. A hazard and a risk are quite different; a hazard has the potential to cause injury to persons and damage to property while a risk is a specific contingency or peril. Risk can be measured by the likelihood of the event occurring, times the severity of the event. (Goetsch 2015).
Acoholism and drug abuse among pilots are sources of danger and more prevelant in the industry than one would imagine. Whip’s use of these substances created the hazard; that is, impaired judgment leading to behaviour that can easily contribute to or cause accidents. The majority of adverse effects produced by such abuses relate to the brain, eyes, and inner ear; three organs that are critical to a pilot’s performance. Effects include: impaired reaction time, reasoning, judgment and memory; difficulty in focussing and double vision; dizziness and decreased hearing perception. These effects are exacerbated significantly when other variables such as sleep deprivation, fatigue, or flying in bad weather exist. The question is then, how was Whip able to mitigate all these hazards and do the seemingly impossible? Beats us.
As you saw during the ACS, the co-pilot (Ken Evans) flipped out. It was apparent to viewers that he seemed to be reacting to a severe psychological hazard. From the instant Whip took his seat in the cockpit smelling of alcohol, Evans appeared nervous and reluctant to follow Whip’s bizarre directions (Not as dumb as he looked). The ACS caused a couple other hazards which were just glossed over in the movie. For example, dumping of fuel → possible harm to persons and environment from a flamable substance; the aircraft being flown inverted to arrest the rapid descent and reduce speed → passengers dislodged from seats, falls or damage from falling objects, trauma and death and the noise and vibration of the aircraft → hearing damage, emotional stress.
On the bright side (if you can call it that), the crash wasn’t Whip’s fault.
A team of National Transportation Safety Board (NTBS) personnel, led by Ellen Block was assigned the investigation of the aircraft crash. The team was quite thorough and the process followed, appeared to be consistent with the steps identified by the National Safety Council, to be used in conducting an accident investigation. While the audience was not taken systematically through each step in the movie, the culmination of the investigation supports this assumption. The procedure includes:
- Provide Emergency Response.
- Secure the Area.
- Identify Potential Witnesses.
- Have the Necessary Investigative Tools Available.
- Procure Hard Evidence and Record Data.
- Conduct Interviews.
- Review Data.
- Prepare Incident Report(s).
- Conduct Causal Factor Analysis and Determine Corrective Action.
- Follow Up.
It was ascertained that the root cause of the catastrophic event resulted from a defective jack-screw on the tail-assembly of the aircraft. We’ll save you a Google search. Watch this video; it explains everything. Investigation results.
Sorry to say but that’s not how the movie ended. Whip was found culpable for endangering the lives of his passengers and crew, from his intoxicated state while on duty. He was imprisoned as a result. Movie ending.
Though you may not agree with the ending, the issue of worker intoxication is as severe as the mechanical failure and could have easily been the cause of an accident in another situation. These points are aptly covered in the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of Trinidad and Tobago:
Employees are required to:
- ensure that they are not under the influence of an intoxicant to the extent that it endangers the employees’ or any other person’s health, safety or welfare;
- take reasonable care for the safety and health of themselves and others who may be affected by their acts or omissions in the workplace; and
- report to the employer any contraventions of which they are aware.
It was clear that both the Whip and his Crew violated these responsibilities.
The Employer is responsible for:
- protecting the safety and health of the public from dangers created by the operations or processes carried on in the vicinity of his establishment; and
- taking special care to ensure that plant and equipment being used meet the required standards and, adequate safety systems exist to prevent non-conformance with approved standards.
It can be concluded that the airline was in breach of its responsibilities of providing an airworthy aircraft and crew, for the safe transportation of its passengers.
As an employer, South Jet Airlines failed to remedy the mechanical hazard identified in a maintenance check of a prior period, thereby intensifying the potential risk of failure incrementally, each time the aircraft was flown. In addition, the Airline did not appear to have proper procedures in place to check the sobriety and fitness of its crew members, prior to operating a flight. How did Whip’s addiction escape the annual medical test that should be mandatory for crew-members? Nonetheless, South Jet Airlines definitely failed to meet its responsibility to safeguard employees and others not in its employ, during its operations.
Suggested corrective action include:
- Amendments in the Airline’s maintenance policy to ensure all identified snags on the aircraft are immediately addressed and, the aircraft withdrawn from service until such remedial action is completed and certified.
- Adoption of a policy by the Airline for the checking of crew fitness to operate, prior to the flight, for example, administering of a Breathalyzer Test.
- Employee Assistance Programmes that can be accessed by the Airline’s employees and their families for support.
Goetsch, David L. The Basics of Occupational Health and Safety. Prentice Hall, 2015. Print.
Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 amended 2006, Chapter 88:08
Available at: http://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/alphabetical_list/lawspdfs/88.08.pdf
(Accessed 20 September 2014)