Case highlights agency’s enforcement efforts in airline baggage-handling industry
NEWARK, N.J. — 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 customer baggage using awkward postures. From 2011 to January 2015, the airline's baggage handlers reported at least 622 musculoskeletal injuries.
The U.S. Department of Labor today announced a precedent-setting agreement with United to protect its employees from future injuries by improving its baggage-handling operation. The agreement settles a lawsuit filed by the department on behalf of its Occupational Safety and Health Administration to eliminate several hazardous conditions its inspectors identified in United's baggage-handling operation at Newark.
"We are pleased that United Airlines has recognized that employers have a responsibility to protect workers from the many hazards that can cause musculoskeletal injuries," said Robert Kulick, OSHA regional administrator in New York. "With this agreement, United will take the steps necessary to prevent its employees from suffering unnecessary injuries due to its deficient baggage-handling operation."
The agreement settles a citation that the OSHA Parsippany Area Office issued to United Airlines following an inspection at Newark Liberty. OSHA's inspection found five hazardous activities and conditions in United's baggage-handling operations that contributed to the high rate of injuries. These activities and conditions included:
- Employees exposed to repeated bending, lifting and reaching hazards due to the presence of tubular bollards in front of conveyor belts.
- The use of dual-tier conveyor belts to transport baggage in the outbound baggage room that required employees to bend over or 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 at 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.
- Prolonged loading and unloading of baggage in confined areas of the aircraft cargo bay.
In its settlement, United Airlines agrees to install mechanical conveyor belts on the passenger jet bridges located throughout its regional terminal. Mechanical conveyors will reduce employee exposure to known hazards by eliminating the need for the handlers to lift and lower passenger luggage to and from the jet bridges manually. The company will also retain a qualified expert to perform an evaluation of potential repetitive stress or injury risks in baggage-handling operations at Newark Liberty and to make recommendations to improve worker safety there. Additionally, the airline must adopt the expert's recommendations or similar measures to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injury, and form a dedicated safety committee comprised of the expert, as well as both management and employee representatives from the airline.
United Airlines has 90 days to complete the evaluation and must implement all recommendations within two years of the settlement agreement. The agreement gives OSHA authority to monitor the evaluation and abatement implementation process.
"This settlement will have long-term safety implications for the baggage-handling industry," said Jeffrey S. Rogoff, the department's regional solicitor in New York. "As one of the world's leading airlines, United Airlines is setting a workplace safety standard that other airlines will be compelled to follow."
This case was litigated by David Jaklevic and Amy Tai of the department's regional Office of the Solicitor in New York.
To ask questions; obtain compliance assistance; file a complaint; or report amputations, eye loss, workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Parsippany Area Office at 973-263-1003.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov
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