Winter Safety at Hospital Helistops

Winter 2022-2023

To: Facility Heliport Managers

Re: Winter Safety at Hospital Helistops

We at West Michigan Air Care have enjoyed and continue to enjoy the professional support that you and your staff provide, 24 hours a day, in fair or foul weather. This fact is evidence of the conscientious way that you have performed your role in these lifesaving operations. We wish to express our thanks in your obtaining and maintaining these landing areas and for the high level of safety and security that you provide. Your help is a major reason for our record of safety in the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) industry.

The challenging winter season brings many potential hazards. Of particular interest is the Hospital Landing Zone (LZ). Help us keep everyone safe by following these important winter tips:

  • Snow blown by helicopter rotor wash can cause an unsafe condition known as “white out.” A white out can cause visibility in the LZ as well as the surrounding area to be near zero until the snow settles. Hospital LZs are often co-located with parking lots and a white out could cause traffic problems with the drastically reduced visibility. As helicopter travel times to your facility are often short, keeping the landing area clear will reduce the chance of significant white out. At the same time, conditions will be much more tenable for both the ground and air crews as well as any pedestrians nearby. Observing best practice snow removal procedures will help eliminate any delays to patient care.
  • The aircraft requires more space than just the footprint of the aircraft for safe operation. For this reason please advise your snow removal personnel to avoid “snow stacking” within the landing zone. A snow pile of even 14 inches creates a ground strike hazard to our aircraft. A general rule is to have a completely clear area of 100’ x 100.’ Additionally, markers that are placed in the ground to denote perimeters can damage the aircraft if contact with one occurs. Please have these removed prior to arrival. Lastly, have snow removal personnel clear and de-ice a path from the LZ to your facility for patient cart transport.
  • Ice is a fact of life during the winter. While it is also a slip and fall hazard to personnel on the helipad, so is excessive buildup of de-icing products. Having your snow removal personnel stay ahead of icing issues by routine application of measured amounts of de-ice products will help manage slip and fall risks and control de-icing costs by avoiding over applications. Excessive de-icing product accumulating on the ground can also become hazardous as the rotor wash of the helicopter turns the material into flying debris. This, in turn, creates a projectile hazard to personnel and nearby vehicles. Additionally, too much material can be difficult to walk on or push the patient cart over.
  • The cold winter temperatures and wind chills can create frost bite hazards to personnel assisting at the LZ. The winds created by the rotor wash can be quite high, in the range of 80 mph, and cause an especially low wind chill in the immediate vicinity of the LZ. Please insure your helipad personnel are dressed properly for the conditions with hands and face covered. Remaining outside of the predetermined safety area at your LZ will help protect your LZ personnel from these high winds and the associated wind chill. A distance of 100’ from the edge of the landing area is a good rule if no other procedures are in place.

Thank you for all your hard work and diligence. Maintaining an area for air operations is not an easy task, and the crews of West Michigan Air Care appreciate all your efforts to keep safety and quality patient care at the highest level. If there is any way we can be of assistance to you, please contact us.

Thank you again and best wishes.

Kara Kreger
Flight Nurse/ Safety Manager
West Michigan Air Care
7 Healthcare Plaza
Kalamazoo, Mi. 49007

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