The Chicago Occupational Accident Attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers Represent Baggage Handler
Baggage handlers, porters, and bellhops are charged with loading, unloading, transporting and storing luggage, suitcases, and other cargo including packages, airfreight, and mail. At airports, train stations and bus stations, baggage handlers perform various jobs that include:
- Collect luggage, sort baggage, and check the cargo against the transport manifest or flight list.
- Transfer luggage from the terminal check-in area to the departure secured area.
- Ensure that all cargo is loaded onto the designated airplane, train car, or bus.
- Unload luggage and baggage from cargo hold inside the airplane, train car, or bus using conveyor systems, cargo loaders, trucks, vans, and trailers.
- Store luggage and cargo in designated areas including warehouses and storage units.
- Report any damaged or suspicious luggage, baggage, or cargo.
On airplanes, the baggage handler’s job is to ensure that all cargo is stowed securely and that the weight of the luggage, bags, mailbags and other cargo is evenly distributed inside the hold. On some airlines, baggage handlers are responsible for loading and unloading carts containing beverages, food, cutlery and other equipment with refreshments. The handlers might also operate motorized and nonmotorized mobile stairs the provide ingress and egress to passengers boarding and disembarking the aircraft.
Baggage Handling: A Dangerous Occupation?
For baggage handlers working around airplanes and trains, every day can be a unique experience from working in the frigid cold to the sweltering heat. Also, ground workers at the airport must deal with the deafening sounds of airplane engines arriving and departing just hundreds of feet away. The worker must watch every step and avoid spilled oil or gas and stay clear of tarmac equipment moving quickly around and behind planes parked at the gates.
Every year, baggage handlers and other ground workers at airports are seriously injured and killed. In many incidences, the handler is expected to quickly unload an arriving airplane just before loading and securing the next batch of cargo on the craft about to head outbound to the next destination.
Competition in the airline industry often creates dangerous working environments for employees at a financially-strapped airline transport carrier that is losing their share of the market. To save profits, the number of ground workers and baggage handlers staff is reduced, putting an additional burden on the remaining employees of getting the job done quickly and safely. Their work is often done at lower wages to cut the airline’s costs.
Many airport ground workers have long known that more action needs to be taken to ensure a safer working environment. The US Department of Labor stated in a news release that they had been talking to United Airlines who agreed “to remove hazards faced by baggage handlers in a precedent-setting US Department of Labor settlement."
The news release stated that “For too long, a hard day’s work for United Airlines’ baggage handlers at Newark Liberty International Airport meant unnecessary pain and the risk of debilitating injuries caused by lifting baggage using awkward postures. From 2011 to January 2015, the airline’s baggage handlers reported at least 622 musculoskeletal injuries."
Other problems identified in two complaints by baggage handlers included inadequate safety training, insufficient supervision, the pressure to maintain a schedule, and defective, unsafe and malfunctioning equipment.
According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), baggage handlers at the major airports face the potential hazards of day-to-day working environments that “contributed to a high rate of injuries." OSHA lists numerous problems faced by handlers including:
- Airport ground workers are “exposed to repeated bending, lifting and reaching hazards due to the presence of tubular bollards in front of the conveyor belt.
- The use of dual-tier conveyor belts to transport baggage in the outbound baggage room that required employees to bend over and reach overhead to access and lift baggage.
- Manually loading and unloading gate-checked baggage at passenger jet bridges in the regional terminal.
- The use of hand-held scanners of the cargo bay entrance that exposed employees to the hazards of repeated twisting, pushing, pulling and lateral motions with the arm extended from the body.
- Prolong loading and unloading of baggage in confined areas of the aircraft cargo bay."
Chicago Baggage Handler Wages
The annual employment statistics maintained by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for the year 2016 revealed that there were 1660 Baggage Handlers employed in the Chicago, metropolitan area. These statistics reveal that Baggage Handlers earned on average $13.53 per hour, or $28,150 every year. This job-related income is significantly higher compared to national averages. See Chart
Serious Injuries and Fatalities Cases
Loading and unloading aircraft cargo holds on a busy airport tarmac pose significant risks of injuries and potential of death when serious accidents occur. Many baggage workers suffer back and shoulder injuries due to lifting heavy bags and knee injuries by repeatedly kneeling in the tight confines of a plane’s cargo hold.
In recent years, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has completed significant research on ergonomics in the workplace, especially involving those who perform manual handling. The increasing cases of back disorders, knee problems, and neck injuries are correlated with lifting in handling cargo loads, heavy physical work, and performing duties in awkward postures that involve twisting and bending.
The government agency recognizes that the weight of the cargo, its shape, size, and stability play an essential role in the health and safety of the baggage handler. Also, the handler’s tasks of stooping, twisting and reaching repetitively and carrying heavy objects for a long distance are associated with many job-related injuries. The employee’s work environment is also a key component to incident rates involving injuries when weather conditions, floor conditions, and other services are compromised with liquid, oils, and rain. Some of these underlying causes played a key role in the cases of injury and death listed below.
- Case 1: January 2012 – On January 26, 2012, a Southwest Airlines baggage car driver “had driven his tug motor vehicle baggage cart when it was struck by a mobile lounge." After the worker “had stopped at the mobile lounge/taxi parking area, the mobile lounge struck [the worker’s] first and second carts." The worker suffered life-threatening injuries and later died.
- Case 2: September 2014 – In the early morning hours of September 5, 2014, two airport workers “were assigned to load an airplane. While [one employee] was working to open the back right cargo door, the co-worker was operating the belt loader. As a co-worker positioned the belt loader in line with the back right cargo door, he inadvertently put the vehicle in drive instead of neutral as intended. When the coworker released the brake, the loader tugged forward and crushed the [24-year-old male] employee, killing him."
- Case 3: November 2016 – In midafternoon on November 16, 2016, a 64-year-old male airport worker “was struck by an aircraft nonsupport equipment tug. He received several head injuries and was killed."
- Case 4: April 2013 – A 59-year-old male Delta Airlines worker was on the job at Gate 57, on Terminal 5 at LAX [Los Angeles International Airport] in the early morning hours of February 18, 2013 “connecting a tow bar to an incoming aircraft which would be towed to the gate." The worker “picked up the front of the tow and connected it to the pin and nose landing gear [while feeling] a strain in the back [and] lifting the weight of the tow bar. As a result of the incident, he strained his back." The worker “sought medical attention for the strain and was hospitalized and treated for a hernia."
- Case 5: March 2014 – Just after 4:00 PM on February 24, 2014, a Southwest Airlines worker on the job at the airport was “trying to hitch to a baggage cart." The employee attempted to line “up the hitch with his left hand, [when] the hitch struck his middle finger and crushed it between the hitch and the tow, causing the partial amputation of the finger." EMT transported the employee “to a Medical Center, where he was treated and hospitalized for the partial finger amputation."
- Case 6: June 2011 – At around 8:00 AM on June 2, 2011, a Southwest Airlines worker was “loading bags a Gate 23 at San Francisco International Airport." As a part of the loading process, the employee “was in the forward bin of the aircraft stacking bags, while a coworker was on the ramp placing bags on the belt loader." The worker said that “he did not feel any pain, weakness, or any other symptom while he was working" but “was sweating, which was normal for him when he loaded and unloaded bags." The worker stated that “he did not recall collapsing or falling on the floor." A ramp agent working for Southwest Airlines found the ill worker “on the floor of the bin, unconscious and unresponsive." The employee was sent to the Peninsula Hospital “for treatment of ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest."
- Case 7: October 2012 – At approximately 6:13 AM on October 7, 2012, an employee “fell approximately 10 feet from a jetway passenger boarding bridge while standing on it." The employee notice while on the jetway bridge that “a coworker was driving the jetway bridge away from the aircraft." The employee attempted to “inform her coworker that the bridge was not in line correctly and somehow her foot slipped off the jetway-bridge and she fell onto the tarmac." The worker suffered “serious injuries and was hospitalized for more than twenty-four hours with multiple fractures of the left femur and left ankle."
- Case 8: April 2013 – On April 10, 2013, in the early morning hours before dawn, an employee “was overseeing the loading of a B 747 [aircraft]. The employee was struck by the cargo transporter …and sustained multiple hip and rib fractures" and later died from his injuries.
Airline carriers have made some significant improvements to the baggage handlers work environment by providing extending belt loaders that reduce the risks of handling loose bags in tight areas. Also, some airlines have lifted the height of their mobile conveyor belt to minimize vertical lifting distances and reduce the risk of back injuries.
Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) is highly effective at reducing many of the job-associated injuries experienced groundcrew and baggage handlers. Some personal equipment includes wearing appropriate clothing including kneepads, protective gloves, and footwear that can produce a sufficient grip on slippery tarmac surfaces and smooth floors under wet conditions. Wearing ear protection all the time and waterproof clothing when necessary can help maximize efficiency while performing the task and preventing hearing loss.
What Management can Do
OSHA has determined through investigations that many groundcrew workers fail to follow safe practices while performing baggage handling operations. Also, baggage handlers often work without appropriate moving and lifting equipment including conveyors that do not require manual handling, which can lead to an increased rate of serious injuries and back problems. These investigators recognized that management could build systems to eliminate many of known problems. These efforts include:
- Perform suitable risk assessments,
- Structure better job rotations and work patterns,
- Perform better planning, organizing and controlling the activities of the handling crew
- Provide access to competent advisors who offer sufficient training;
- Restructure conditions, make improvements, and develop better solutions imposed by the airline or airport to ensure a safer working system.
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