- Caring for People in Industry
by John E. Ruffle

The ashen faced man turned to me with relief written on his face as if waking from a nightmare. He had been perspiring in the smoky driver’s room, waiting for me to clock on. The grubby paper he waved before me was a disciplinary notice from management. As the “Drivers Rep.”, he is asking me to speak for him in the management hearing. The disciplinary hearing is on Tuesday. He doesn’t know it yet, but management intends to fire him, following an accident on the airfield. This has got to be the hardest thing to do - to stand between management and worker, and plead this man’s case. Did he do wrong? Yes. He violated an airside rule, and as a result had an accident.


Thinking about it, I can’t understand why he did what he did. Had he been properly trained? Answer: Yes. Was he supplied with the proper equipment? Answer: Well - not really, even though management deny the fact. And that is one and only (rather shaky) platform for his defense. As intercessor, I went for an “off the record” chat with management before the hearing date. “If we fire him”, I was told, “he is getting off lightly”. And management is right. The man I’m defending smashed into the wing of a stationary aircraft with the vehicle he was driving. However “minor” such an even appears to be, anything involving aircraft safety must rightly be a major issue.

As it turns out, management has persuaded the airline and the police to drop any action, and even the airport authorities aren’t pressing charges - provided that management is seen to discipline the man. Already, the company has withdrawn his airside documentation for two months - but now management tell me that he is no use to the company - he must go! What would you do? This man’s livelihood is at stake - he has a wife and family - and he is a scared man. To make matters worse, his work record isn’t perfect, and he’s already on a “final written warning.” Maybe he should go, I thought.


Come Tuesday, if I can persuade him to admit he did wrong -in front of the intimidating faces of his own bosses - then there is a glimmer of hope. Because if I can establish that this man suffers from learning difficulties, then I can argue that two lines of eleven point bold print in an airside manual and one verbal explanation is inadequate training. Not only that, but the man was faced with an impossible task - he had been assigned a vehicle that was too long to fit alongside this particular aircraft without either breaking airside rules or completing a very complicated maneuver - only permissible with the help of a banksman - which he did not have.

Of course, he should have blocked the entrance to the aircraft stand and calmly called for help on his radio while making an awful lot of waiting aircraft workers hopping mad, or even violent. The man was sweating. Even if he had called on his radio, it’s very doubtful that help would have been sent. He would have needed an Airside Marshal, and that could have taken half an hour. He had to take action - and fast. So, however inexcusably, he did what a lot of people would have done under the circumstances- he “had a go” at the banned maneuver - and ended up ramming an aircraft.

However, management gave me the clue to his “salvation” when (off the record, of course) they showed me the accident report he’s filled in. Inwardly, my heart sank. I just couldn’t believe our man had filed a report without asking me -or someone else - to help him. In sixth grade English, he had written one single line of explanation of how the accident had happened. Management pounced on this, of course: “See, he doesn’t even care enough to fill in proper details!” I looked again at the report - written just as though English was a foreign language to him... and then it struck me. English IS a foreign language to him - and also to many others in our work place.

My colleague has become a casualty of a working system that does not truly consider the “special” needs of those who struggle with English as a second -or third - language, or with those many people who suffer from undiagnosed Dyslexia, (like indeed, myself).


However, the work place is not a charity - nor even a church. And aviation safety is as non-negotiable as sin will be on judgment day. And our worker made an error of judgment. However, he has now become a victim of an imperfect system, and his livelihood - and his family’s welfare is at stake. So I ask again, what would YOU do, if you were his “industrial pastor”, union rep. or whatever you wish to call it?


For what it’s worth, my recommendations will be as follows:

1. Launch an internal health and safety review into vehicle types to be assigned for work in proximity around certain aircraft types (the small ones, such as Boeing 737’s for example).

2. Bearing in mind that common sense is not common - especially under stress - ask management to create clear guidelines as to action to take in any unusual or emergency circumstances. Or better still, volunteer to do it myself.

3. Request management to contact the British Dyslexia Association (contact details at the end of this article) and upgrade training to make allowances for those who do not read and write well, or who have identified or unidentified special educational needs.


4. Change the man to another division of our company, where he will be doing similar work on the same pay scale (but not around aircraft) for a probationary period of six months.

5. Ask management to take our friend’s “final written warning” off file.


Well - the disciplinary hasn’t happened yet, so no-one knows the outcome yet. Watch this space to see what the results will be. You might act differently - and I’d love to hear your suggestions. However, the bottom line is clear to me. For the Christian, this type of involvement in people’s lives is a far more accurate description of what real pastoring is about than our familiar picture of the besuited man of God, framed by the stained glass window, standing behind the sacred desk Sunday by Sunday. Sitting behind an often dirty steering wheel might not seem like a very holy thing to do - especially on a Sunday shift! - but it is in touch with present reality, where hurting, imperfect people need help. It is a privilege to reach into the lives of people who would NEVER enter a church. And hopefully, however painfully, we can make a difference in their lives; make a contribution towards improved aviation safety.. and maybe even demonstrate Kingdom principles in an often hostile, harsh world.

- John Ruffle


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The above article is soly the opinions of the author and does not represent the views or opinions of the BDA. Copyright 1999 John E. Ruffle. All rights reserved. The author may be contacted at:

Copyright 1998 John E. Ruffle.


This edition of NETWORD Copyright copy&;1999 by John E. Ruffle, London, England. All rights reserved.


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