Airside Ergonomics

Health and Safety Airside Ergonomics By Richard Rowe April 2001 Ground support is one industry where work-related repetitive injuries have taken a terrible toll. GSE Today reports on efforts by one U.S. company to drive down the cost of such...


Health and Safety

Airside Ergonomics

By Richard Rowe

April 2001

Ground support is one industry where work-related repetitive injuries have taken a terrible toll. GSE Today reports on efforts by one U.S. company to drive down the cost of such injuries.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) 1998 report cites incident rates of nonfatal injuries in air transportation industry as 14 per 100 workers. This incident rate is almost 50 percent higher than that of coal mining and 40 percent higher than in the construction industry. These figures reflect the combined incidents of ground and in-flight injuries and have a quantifiable relationship that can be matched by a dollar figure.

Keep in mind that these statistics merely reflect "reportable" injuries or injuries that were deemed serious enough to be documented. In addition, the 14 per 100 workers figure reflects only documented incidents that met OSHA’s definition and criteria of a nonfatal injury. If all injuries were reported, documented, and compiled, figures would more than likely be greatly inflated.

The incident rate, on the other hand, is lower than actual injuries because it reflects accidents where injuries caused time loss. Many of the unreported injuries that ground personnel encounter include minor cuts, bruises, and/or strains related to repetitive motion. Injuries that are deemed "minor" heal and are forgotten with time. Minor repetitive injuries caused by a specific task go unnoticed--that is, until the pain decreases an individual’s productivity, directly impacting time loss. Several contributing elements play their part in the onset of such injuries such as force, repetition, awkward and static postures, vibration, and cold temperatures.

Work-related repetitive injuries, or Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs), occur where there is a mismatch between the physical requirements of the job and the physical capacity of the worker. According to OSHA, work-related MSDs are the most prevalent, most expensive, and most preventable types of workplace injuries. They account for more than a third of all occupational injuries and illnesses that are serious enough to result in days away from work.

In the U.S. alone, more than 600,000 employees suffer lost workdays due to MSDs each year. Such injuries end up costing businesses US$15-20 billion in workers' compensation costs, and total direct costs are thought to add up to $60 billion.

OSHA points out that Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is the one form of MSD that results in more days on average away from work than any other workplace injury. The median number of days away from work for CTS is 25 days, as compared to 17 days for fractures, and 20 days for amputations.

Workers with cases of severe injury can face permanent disability that prevents them from returning to their job or handling simple everyday tasks. The act of picking up a child, or even pushing a shopping cart, can become a painful experience.

OSHA’s recent response came in the form of a controversial new ergonomics rule passed by President Clinton just prior to leaving office. The rule required businesses to develop and implement an extensive ergonomics program to eliminate workplace muscular stress. It generated outcry from industry organizations such as the National Air Transportation Association which subsequently lobbied hard for the U.S. Senate to pass a joint resolution to reverse the rule due to the "irrecoverable financial pitfalls that would close many aviation businesses." The rule which took effect on January 16, but which would not have been enforced until October 15, has since been repealed by the new Bush administration (see Editorial Director’s Comments, page three).

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