Thursday, March 04, 2004

Airport Screeners Suffer Highest Government Injury Rate

Next time you're in an airport take a look at how much how much awkward lifting and twisting these workers do, especially those who are x-raying the heavy checked bags. It hurts just to watch.

According to a new OSHA report, airport baggage screeners suffer an injury rate 3-1/2 times higher than the average federal government workers. Most of the injuries are back injuries and other strains and sprains from lifting and twisting with heavy bags. Other injuries include cuts from reaching blindly into bags and even broken bones when bags fall.
"That’s extraordinarily high,” said Dr. Laura Welch, medical director for the Center to Protect Workers’ Rights, a Silver Spring, Md., organization that tries to improve safety for construction workers. “It suggests there’s a really big problem and they’d better figure out what it is.”
The main problem seems to be design of the workplace. Neither airports nor the machinery used by the workers were built with ergonomics in mind.
“We’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the physical systems, the mechanical systems,” Hatfield said, explaining the problem is due partly to lack of time to prepare work areas.

The TSA had only a year to recruit and train tens of thousands of people to screen passengers and baggage at 429 commercial airports. Airports couldn’t be renovated fast enough to properly install new security equipment, so the large machines that screen luggage for explosives were hastily placed in many airport lobbies, requiring screeners to lift heavy bags from the floor onto conveyor belts.

“It’s a very physical and tough job, and in many situations we are still operating under less-than-ideal conditions,” Hatfield said.
For more information, check out the OSHA webpage on Airline industry hazards.