Baggage Handling Best Practices

Work related injuries related to baggage handling have reached unprecedented numbers. John Gude from Glidepath discusses how the industry can work to allieveate this problem.

One wouldn’t think of an airport as a hazardous place to work butfor baggage and cargo handlers it is among the most injury-prone occupation in aviation. The airline industry is facing unprecedented work related injuries which cost the aviation industry millions of dollars every year in terms of lost work, rehabilitation costs and law suits.

Let us not forget to mention the personal suffering of the injured individuals. These injuries primarily include the back, arms and shoulders caused from twisting and turning, awkward lifting postures and repetitive lifting of heavy bags.

Work related baggage handling injuries are endemic to the aviation industry. according to the TSA, injuries and costs skyrocket. Records state screener injuries cost the industry $52 million in FY2005 and $58 million in fiscal 2006 which cover wages and medical benefits for injured screeners. The latest TSA information in a May 2007 report indicates the costs could be as high as $66 million with an estimated future liability of worker’s claims to reach approximately $600 million.

Recent figures from the Department of Labor, Federal Injury and Illness reveal 5 percent of TSA’s workforce was injured in the first quarter of 2007 with 2,892 reported cases. Assuming an average cost per claim of $7,300, (the average of 2006 claims) that is already $21 million in the first quarter of the year! If the rate is linear, the industry could experience as much as $84 million in claims not including the long term liability costs.

The baggage processing area has the highest percentage of injuries. The lack of proper ergonomic baggage handling is so widespread it affects ticketing, lobby screening, trace detection (ETD) and loading the aircraft cargo hold. Ergonomic studies have been conducted in airport bag rooms since the early 1990s however, very little has been accomplished to alleviate the injury problem. Statistics prove that it’s getting worse as the number of passengers increases.

What has been done?

There are several organizations and committees dedicated to solving ergonomic problems in the workforce. OSHA, the airlines, and the National Safety Council International Air Transport Section Alliance (since disbanded) collaborated to update e-tool, an ergonomic guideline found on OSHA’s Web site. This Web-based product provides recommendations and best practices to the baggage handling industry in the area of workplace safety and health. Recommendations include body postures, number of repetitions and lifting weight. The Alliance also completed the Ergonomics for Baggage Handlers Training Manual which provides specific guidelines for baggage handlers.

Many airlines now employ full-time ergonomic experts to speak at conferences, promote ergonomic initiatives and investigate equipment manufactures (OEM) to discover the best solutions for their application. The Institute of Industrial Engineers has dedicated the last 10 years conducting the Applied Ergonomics Conference where professionals gather to share their solutions and offer research papers. The aviation industry has been a part of this conference.

The TSA has embarked on its own internal ergonomic program to find cost effective solutions to alleviate injuries. They are reengineering baggage screening areas (ETD) by providing roller conveyors and tables in critical injury-prone areas. These measures must be helping as evidenced by a 55 percent reduction in lost days from work, according to the Web site. The number of lost days due to injury was cut from 45 days to 20.5 days. These benefits were realized through administrative and ergonomic programs and should begin to lower the overall costs of claims. Unfortunately, the first quarter of 2007 shows the costs going in another direction.

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