A literature review published in 2009 by the Health and Safety Executive, an organization in the United Kingdom similar in some cases to this country’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration, presented a litany of information related to alternative methods of loading narrow-bodied aircraft that reduced injury to baggage handlers.
HSE surveys provide plenty of evidence that baggage handling is physically demanding:
73 percent of baggage handlers reported trouble with their lower back.
51 percent reported trouble in their knees.
43 percent reported trouble in their shoulders.
The report highlights a range of existing and emerging devices providing mechanical assistance (and manual handling risk reduction), to the baggage handling process.
“There is good evidence for the benefit of mechanical assistance devices in terms of reducing physical workload, manual handling and musculoskeletal risks associated with baggage handling work on the ramp,” the report concluded.
Most of the definitive work in this area was done by researcher G. Dell. Dell reviewed the manual handling activities of ramp-based workers and presented evidence that each item of passenger baggage is typically manually handled up to 10 times for each journey (up to five times at each end.)
Interestingly, the HSE notes, in a section on the history of the airline baggage handling, Dell presents images of operations from 1926; 1940; 1955; and 2000. “The nature of the manual operation has not changed significantly, although the amount of air travel, and, hence, the extent and frequency of the baggage handling operation has increased,” the report says.
When adverse work conditions exist, engineering means of changing the condition should be explored.
Extendable beltloaders reportedly significantly reduce the amount of manual exertion involved in the stacking and unstacking of luggage. No system does away with the fact that the baggage handler needs to kneel, sit or squat in the confines of a hold. However, it is the combination of heavy handling and twisting while in a kneeling posture that presents the greatest risk of injuries on the job.
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