From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Injury Rates for Airport Screeners Indicate Need for Ergonomics

If the extra time it takes to wait for bags to be screened at the airport seems taxing to passengers, airport screeners may have it even worse. A recent report indicates that injury rates for screeners are the highest among all federal employees.

Back injuries as well as sprains, strains, bumps, bruises, broken bones and cuts are all reported side-effects of the job of screening luggage, says a recently released OSHA report on the subject. While the injury rate for all federal employees is 5.5 percent, for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees, most of whom work as airport screeners, it’s 19.4 percent. But it’s not just the job itself that is causing the injuries, including work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), it’s the workstation, too — one that wasn’t designed ergonomically to aptly accommodate the task.

“Proper lifting techniques, proper ergonomics, are pretty much impossible because of the small space [allocated to the screener and screening area],” former screener supervisor Laura Roler who suffered a back injury from lifting heavy luggage last year, told the Associated Press.

Mark Hatfield, spokesperson for the TSA, however, told the Associated Press that his agency is attempting to address the problem. “We’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the physical systems, the mechanical systems,” he said. Hatfield also said the TSA has plans to train screeners regarding safe lifting techniques and other operating procedures that would help reduce the risk of injury.

One of the issues with the poorly designed and equipped workspace, indicates Hatfield, was the brief amount of time the TSA had to recruit and train today’s airport screeners, a situation that also allowed little time to design new equipment to assist with the task. At most airports, screeners are still required to lift passenger baggage onto platforms for screening.

Other studies have also shown that handling luggage, whether for screening or in other travel-related capacities, carries with it a high risk of injury. A survey of airline-employed passenger service agents conducted in 2001 found that 31 percent of the 2,500 respondents indicated that they had been diagnosed with a work-related MSD in the neck, shoulder or back.

Another key factors attributing to the risk of injury is the weight of passenger luggage. Today most airlines charge additional fees for baggage exceeding a certain weight as well as bags that exceed a passenger’s checked-luggage limit in number. However, it is unclear as to whether the motivation behind the baggage surcharge is to encourage lighter-weight baggage, thereby reducing the injury risks for the airline workers or if the surcharges exist for other purposes such as weight distribution or space limitations.

Source: Associated Press