Health and Physiological Factors Affecting Pilot Performance (Part Seven)

Exposure to Chemicals

When conducting preflight and post-flight inspections, pilots must verify that the fluid levels in their aircraft meet the levels specified for safe operations as stated in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook. These fluids include, but are not limited to hydraulic fluid, engine oil, and fuel.

 

It is important that every pilot recognize the potential hazards of working with these fluids as well as the recommended first aid measures to follow should any of these fluids come in contact with their eyes, skin, and/or respiratory system. As the specific first aid measures for dealing with exposure to these chemicals can vary by chemical type, it is important that every pilot be familiar with the location and use of the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each chemical they encounter.

The procedures described in the following sections are minimum guideline for first aid for each of the indicated scenarios. Ultimately, the pilot should consult the MSDS for first aid procedures specific to the type of chemical and exposure scenario.

Hydraulic Fluid

  • Eye Contact—immediately flush the eyes with clean water and seek medical attention if irritation occurs.
  • Skin Contact—remove all contaminated clothing and thoroughly cleanse the affected areas with mild soap and water or a waterless hand cleaner. If irritation or redness develops and persists, seek medical attention. Should the hydraulic fluid get into or under the skin, or into any other part of the body, regardless of the appearance of the wound or its size, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Inhalation—if respiratory symptoms develop, move away from the source of exposure and into fresh air in a position comfortable for breathing. If symptoms persist, seek medical attention.
  • Ingestion—first aid is not normally required; however, if swallowed and symptoms develop, seek medical attention.
 

Engine Oil

  • Eye Contact—immediately flush the eyes with clean water and seek medical attention if irritation occurs.
  • Skin Contact—remove all contaminated clothing and thoroughly cleanse the affected areas with soap and water. Launder contaminated clothing before reuse.
  • Inhalation—move away from the source of exposure and into fresh air. If respiratory irritation, dizziness, nausea, or unconsciousness occurs, seek immediate medical attention. If breathing stops, assisted ventilation is required via a bag-valve-mask or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
  • Ingestion—seek immediate medical attention. If immediate medical attention is not available, contact a regional poison control center or emergency medical professional regarding the induction of vomiting or use of activated charcoal. Vomiting should never be induced to a person who is groggy or unconscious.

Fuel

  • Eye Contact—immediately flush the eyes with clean water for at least 15 minutes and seek medical attention immediately.
  • Skin Contact—remove all contaminated clothing and thoroughly cleanse the affected areas with mild soap and water or a waterless hand cleaner. If skin surface is damaged, apply a clean dressing and seek medical attention. If irritation or redness develops, seek medical attention. Launder contaminated clothing before reuse.
  • Inhalation—move away from the source of exposure and into fresh air. If breathing stops, assisted ventilation is required via a bag-valve-mask or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Once breathing is restored, the use of additional oxygen may be necessary. Seek medical attention immediately.
  • Ingestion—seek immediate medical attention. Do not induce vomiting or take anything by mouth as this may cause the material to enter the lungs and cause severe lung damage. Should vomiting occur, keep head below the hips to reduce the risks of aspiration. Monitor for breathing difficulties. Rinse out any material which enters the mouth until the taste is dissipated.
 

Dehydration and Heatstroke

Dehydration is the term given to a critical loss of water from the body. Causes of dehydration are hot flight decks and flight lines, wind, humidity, and diuretic drinks—coffee, tea, alcohol, and caffeinated soft drinks. Some common signs of dehydration are headache, fatigue, cramps, sleepiness, and dizziness.

The first noticeable effect of dehydration is fatigue, which in turn makes top physical and mental performance difficult, if not impossible. Flying for long periods in hot summer temperatures or at high altitudes increases the susceptibility to dehydration because these conditions tend to increase the rate of water loss from the body.

To help prevent dehydration, drink two to four quarts of water every 24 hours. Since each person is physiologically different, this is only a guide. Most people are aware of the eight-glasses-a-day guide: If each glass of water is eight ounces, this equates to 64 ounces, which is two quarts. If this fluid is not replaced, fatigue progresses to dizziness, weakness, nausea, tingling of hands and feet, abdominal cramps, and extreme thirst.

The key for pilots is to be continually aware of their condition. Most people become thirsty with a 1.5 quart deficit or a loss of 2 percent of total body weight. This level of dehydration triggers the “thirst mechanism.” The problem is that the thirst mechanism arrives too late and is turned off too easily. A small amount of fluid in the mouth turns this mechanism off and the replacement of needed body fluid is delayed.

Other steps to prevent dehydration include:

  • Carrying a container in order to measure daily water intake.
  • Staying ahead—not relying on the thirst sensation as an alarm. If plain water is not preferred, add some sport drink flavoring to make it more acceptable.
  • Limiting daily intake of caffeine and alcohol (both are diuretics and stimulate increased production of urine).

Heatstroke is a condition caused by any inability of the body to control its temperature. Onset of this condition may be recognized by the symptoms of dehydration, but also has been known to be recognized only upon complete collapse.

To prevent these symptoms, it is recommended that an ample supply of water be carried and used at frequent intervals on any long flight, whether thirsty or not. The body normally absorbs water at a rate of 1.2 to 1.5 quarts per hour. Individuals should drink one quart per hour for severe heat stress conditions or one pint per hour for moderate stress conditions. If the aircraft has a canopy or roof window, wearing light-colored, porous clothing and a hat will help provide protection from the sun. Keeping the flight deck well ventilated aids in dissipating excess heat.