An airport is a busy place. It takes hundreds of personnel to assure smooth operations. The airline services industry encompasses a number of functions, including customer service ticketing agents, wheelchair transporters, baggage handlers, security officers, cleaning crews, and ground crews. These functions operate simultaneously in the background to keep flights on time and serve travelers. The work is fast-paced and speed is a major contributor to errors and accidents.
Ticket agents and customer services representatives are on their feet the majority of the day, often standing in one area for long periods of time. Even with anti-fatigue mats, standing all day can be hard on the joints and musculature of the body. I am reminded of the TV commercial that says, “A body at rest stays at rest. A body in motion stays in motion.” So true. These workers should be provided (and required to take) frequent breaks, even if that means 5 short minutes per hour, to move around and relieve the “body at rest” pressures on the spine, hip, and knee joints that results from this extended standing in place.
These workers also perform repetitive data entry from a standing position. Counter heights and proper ergonomic equipment are important in maintaining good physical alignment and relieving the repetitive motions that place strain on the hands, wrists, arms, elbows, shoulders, and necks. Certainly, repetitive injuries are not limited to these body parts, but these parts are frequently reported as strain/sprain injuries for this job classification.
Baggage handlers have frequent strain/sprain and overexertion injuries as a result of bending, lifting, and slinging luggage onto and off of carts, conveyors, and up into cargo compartments of planes. Shoulder and rotator cuff injuries are common in this job classification, as are back injuries and general arm and neck strain/sprains. Like other exterior grounds crew workers, baggage handlers may work from heights and are, thus, susceptible to falls. Weather is always a factor for these workers, as they are subject to extreme heat and cold temperatures, rain, ice, wind, and the risk of black ice and rapidly changing conditions resulting from those hazards.
Housekeeping and janitorial staff are subject to chemical exposures (inhalation, contact burns), falling from heights when working on ladders or lifts, strain/sprain injuries resulting from the physical labor performed, cumulative trauma injuries resulting from repetitive motions such as mopping, and slip and fall injuries.
Wheelchair transporters commonly experience strain/sprain injuries as a result of lifting or assisting limited-mobility passengers (and/or their luggage) and pushing wheelchairs through the airport. Non-skid soles are important for these workers, as is proper lifting technique.
Security officers (and all of the above service workers) are also subject to angry or confrontational passengers on a routine basis. We have all read the news accounts of negative passenger experiences, but think about that from the perspective of the worker as well. Security officers, in particular, are charged with scrutinizing every passenger, every bag, every laptop – every single item that passes through security. Their job is to identify any potential hazard and stop it at the checkpoint. This is often inconvenient and is a common source of irritation for passengers. These officers must not only do their job (and do it well, for all our sakes), but also know how to diffuse situations and handle confrontations, all the while processing large crowds through security checkpoint stations.
Interior cleaning crews must clean a 737 in minutes between flights. They climb steps and ladders, bend, stretch, reach overhead, lift, and twist all within the confines of the aircraft cabin. They work at a clipped pace to minimize time between deplaning and boarding passengers. Exterior cleaners often work in extreme heat or cold. Inclement weather is not their friend. Rain, snow, sleet, ice, and gusting winds all impact the safety of the exterior workers, particularly when they are working from heights. Racing against the clock in inclement weather conditions only increases the likelihood of a fall, strain/sprain, or struck-by injury.
These exterior workers must remain alert to their surroundings at all times. Mobile ground equipment (lifts, cherry pickers, tugs) and taxiing planes all create hazards for pedestrians and each other. Struck-by injuries commonly occur from walking into a wing. The use of ladders and lifts contributes to fall-from-height injuries which frequently result in lacerations and broken bones. The potential for severity from these injuries includes permanent brain injuries, paralysis, and even death.
By no means is this list inclusive of all the operational support services carried out at an airport. It does, however, paint a broad picture of the types of exposures these workers encounter on a daily basis. Because the exposures are so diverse, it is vital that support services employees receive training in proper lifting, chemical exposures, biohazards, conflict resolution, accident reporting and investigation, and even emergency first aid. They should be equipped with proper footwear, hearing protection, gloves, and other PPE as is appropriate to their job function. Their job is to keep us safe, and that starts by equipping them to carry out their functions in the safest manner possible.
Does your company have formal safety policies in place? Are you responsible for workforce safety or risk management? Email our commercial risk and safety consulting firm or give us a call at (816) 349-0850 to see how we can help design a safety and risk management plan that meets your unique needs.