May 03, 2018 @ 12:00am

You have just opened your newest state-of-the-art facility and surgical center with beds waiting to be filled. Your medical team is highly skilled and ready to respond to the community’s emergency needs. Your local Air Ambulance provider has top-of-the-line equipment and a professionally trained flight team ready to bring the patients to your facility. So what is the problem?  Nothing, you hope—right?

If your risk management and insurance program hasn’t been reviewed with some specific items in mind, you could get into additional liability, employee benefits, and workers compensation issues.

Helipads are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration

We recommend that all hospitals construct a permanent, certified landing area on their property for safety, liability and transport issues. As an integral part of the system, your heliport should be safe for the users, patients, and staff. The first part of this is the design of your heliport. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) worked with several industry groups in 1994 to develop FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 150/5390-2A – Heliport Design. This established the minimum standards for designing a heliport facility. Heliports and Airports are regulated by the FAA and Department of Transportation-Bureau of Aeronautics.

Location! Location! Location!

Just as with any quality real estate, the key to its success is Location, Location, Location! Where a helipad is located in relation to the hospital is critical to safe operations. Many helipads are located on rooftops while others are on the ground.

Here are some basic “Do’s and Don’ts” to establishing a good helipad site:

  • Do have multiple clear, unobstructed flight paths into and out of the designated landing area.
  • Depending on urban environment or the local terrain, rooftop helipads may be the better option for safe operations.
  • Do carefully select the location. Air flowing around and over buildings, trees, terrain irregularities, etc. can create turbulence that can affect safe helicopter operations.
  • Do not locate landing areas built on the ground too close to the hospital or other buildings.
  • Do not allow a landing area to be encroached upon by surrounding buildings, power lines or parking garages over time.
  • Do not plant trees near the helipad landing area. Over time they will grow and create an unsafe situation and will need to be removed.
  • Do not locate it near the MRI area of your facility. MRIs may have an impact has on a helicopter’s instrumentation. A warning sign alerting pilots to the presence of a nearby MRI is highly recommended. It would be best to keep these two areas far apart from each other.
  • A fence installed too close to the perimeter of a helicopter landing area is a potential hazard to flight operations. To help keep people away from the landing zone and maintain safety, a natural low lying vegetative barrier of plant material such as boxwood, holly or other evergreen type shrub is highly recommended.

Construction at your facility or other nearby locations can also be a problem. Most of the cranes and tall obstructions are marked with visual lights or paint schemes for better viewing. Here are some other risk management tips to consider:

  • Flags should always be placed on top of cranes in the vicinity of helipads for daylight operations.
  • The top of all construction cranes should be lighted during the hours of darkness.
  • If possible, cranes should be lowered at night if not in use.
  • Notify helicopter operators when you have cranes or construction sites in the area.
  • Security Training is Essential
  • Proper training for your security team can mitigate a problem before it ever occurs.
  • Train and designate personnel to provide security.
  • Set up security 7–10 minutes prior to helicopter arrival.
  • Block all traffic (vehicle & pedestrian) near the touchdown area during landing and takeoff.
  • Secure a 200-foot area around the landing zone for safety.
  • Security personnel should stay on site until the helicopter has departed.

Ah…what a lovely summer breeze!

Another of the major sources of problems for hospitals is the down draft of the helicopter’s rotors or “rotor wash.” All helicopters produce a significant downward flow of air during landing and takeoff. Many of the helicopters are twin engine with horsepower in excess of 1000 HP. The larger and heavier the helicopter, the greater the velocity of wind produced. A 75–100 mph downward flow of air is not uncommon.

This can send many unattached items, including people and other large objects into the air. Helicopter rotor wash has been known to pick up a full sheet of ¾” plywood 30-40 feet into the air.  Dumpsters, construction areas, sand and dirt, portable equipment, parking areas, pedestrian traffic, tarps or covers, and other loose debris can also cause damage.  Rotor wash liability issues can include falls, eye injuries, flying debris, closing vehicle doors, slamming trunk lids, and knocking down handicapped patients.

Recent claim example — An elderly lady was being discharged after a hip replacement. The trained security personnel were in another part of the hospital dealing with an unruly patient, instead of keeping people away from the helipad, which was directly above the main entrance canopy. While the woman was waiting for her ride, an arriving helicopter’s rotor wash blew her wheelchair 50 feet across the parking lot and resulted in a serious injury.

Frequently Asked Questions

We don’t own the helicopter, so we don’t have any liability—right?

Like any vehicle exposure, you can also have non-owned liability issues.  Even though you may not own, lease, or manage a med-evac helicopter, your use of it for the transport of personnel and patients can lead to liability. When you call for a helicopter, you become part of the chain involved in the possible liability. In allowing the non-owned helicopter to land at your helipad, you can incur helipad liability if an accident occurs.

If you allow your personnel to fly on the aircraft, you may expose them to personal financial risk. Here are some questions you should think about:

  • Do your Long Term and Short Term Disability programs have the same or limited benefits for injuries involving aviation?
  • Do you have an Accidental Death & Dismemberment or Travel Accident Program in place to supplement coverage?
  • Many doctors enjoy flying and own a personal aircraft. Are you allowing them to fly to other hospitals or clinics in your network? Do you have any policies in place against them doing this?

How can we limit our exposure for helipad and non-owned aircraft liability?

You can start with a permanent landing site and a certified helipad in accordance with the FAA and DOT regulations. Choose your site carefully and plan for the future when designing the helipad. Train your personnel on security and safety issues about aviation and helipad use. Implement a written aircraft usage program. Consider the purchase of a helipad liability policy and non-owned aircraft policy to protect you. For a minimal cost, you can obtain financial protection, expert claims assistance, and risk management consulting from your broker and insurance company partner.


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