Is There Anything Missing?

By AME3 M. L. Alberts

How do you inventory your tools before or even after you do a job? Probably the same way as everybody else does…you open the toolbox, look to see if all the tools are there, and close the toolbox. But do you look at the tools that have more than one piece? More than likely you don’t. You are probably ready to go to work, or do your tool inventory so you can get home for the night.

Well, I previously didn’t think too much of looking at every single piece of every tool in the box. I just looked in the toolbox to make sure all my tools were accounted for. I didn’t look at the condition of my tools. Were they missing any pieces, worn beyond use, or broken?

There is more to an inventory than just looking in the toolbox to see if all your tools are accounted for. You need to check your tools before and after you use them. Check them for wear and broken or missing pieces.

About a month ago, this is what happened to me. I had a gripe to work on. I grabbed a toolbox, opened it up, and accounted for the tools. I took the toolbox to the aircraft, which was parked in the hangar, and went to work. I finished the job, put all my tools back in the toolbox and did an inventory before I left the aircraft. What I found really puzzled me. I found a round cylindrical piece of steel about a half inch long and about the same in diameter. It had teeth on it to keep it in place. I grabbed the piece, my toolbox, went to my shop and showed it to my supervisor. I asked him if it looked familiar to him? He said, no, and asked where I found it? I told him I found it lying in my toolbox when I did my tool inventory. He had me check the ratchets to see if they had came apart. I still hadn’t bothered to look at the rest of the tools in the box (mistake number one). Well, the piece didn’t come from any of the ratchets. I then put the piece in the desk drawer, without investigating any further (mistake number two). As we all now or should know by now that screws, fasteners, safety wire and things like this are considered foreign object debris (FOD), even in a desk drawer.

About two weeks later, I was cleaning all the FOD out of the desk drawer for a zone inspection. I picked up the little piece of steel I found in my toolbox two weeks ago, looked at it, and threw it in the trash can (mistake three).

Now, I’m the night check supervisor, responsible for the tools in the shop, beginning of shift inventory, before a job inventory, after a job inventory, and end of the night inventory. I have been looking at the tools for three weeks now, and I am still not pulling tools out to see if there are any pieces missing, broken, or worn (mistake number four). Last night, I sent my third class out to do a job. Yes, I looked at his tools, but I didn’t look at them well enough. I didn’t look for worn, missing, or broken tools. As he was putting the new component in, he dropped a bolt and had to retrieve it. He grabbed the “flexible magnet” to retrieve the bolt. When he pulled the magnet out of the toolbox, he noticed that the end of the magnet was missing. He brought the magnet to me and showed me what was wrong. When I looked at it, I thought I had seen this piece somewhere, but where? That is when I remembered picking up a piece of steel out of a toolbox that looked the same size and shape of the magnet end. The same piece of steel I had thrown in the trash!

The hard part was telling maintenance control and Quality Assurance (QA) that I had to fill out a missing tool report and write a statement about “throwing” a tool away. After writing the missing tool report and a statement, I went to talk to maintenance control. I told them what had happened and showed them the statement. They asked, “Are you sure it is not in the aircraft?” I said “Yes, I am sure, I distinctly remember throwing it in the trash.”

So have you learned anything about tool control? I have. I know tool control is not just looking in your toolbox to see if all the tools are in the toolbox. You have to look at each and every tool. This is especially true of the ones with more than one piece. You have to check to see if the pieces are secured, worn, broken, or missing! It makes good sense. You would save yourself some time writing broken tool reports (BTR) or downing an aircraft to look for a missing tool.

The piece was accounted for, but: what would have happened if I had not found it? What if someone else found it and had thrown it away? The piece could have ended up in an aircraft as FOD, which is dangerous to the flight controls, throttle quadrant, or ejection seat. (We could have lost an aircraft or pilot). Always check your tools before, during, and after a job. Don’t just check to see if you have all the tools in the box. Check each and every piece on assembled, multi-piece tools.

I hope that my incident has shed some light on what could happen if you don’t do a proper tool inventory.