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Ramp agents and repetitive lifting injuries

Anyone who has packed a suitcase knows that it can be surprisingly heavy. Even with extra charges for heavy luggage these days, travelers tend to pack in abundance. Carrying one or two of those through an airport is enough work, but for ramp agents, aka baggage handlers, it's an unending sea of suitcases. A centralized hub like DIA doesn't just move the luggage of those who walk in and out of the DIA gates, but any connecting flight that meets in the middle of the country.

DIA is a hub for Delta, Southwest, United, Frontier and more airlines who use our facilities to move cargo and passengers across the country and internationally. With millions of items flowing through the airport, baggage handlers face an endless stream of heavy lifting. Carts and conveyor belts ease the burden, but the system can only be automated to a point. Oddly shaped items and discerning human eyes are needed for luggage to make it to the right destination.

Repetition and heavy lifting are two understated dangers in any workplace, and they are a major concern for ramp agents. The belts and carts, intended to ease the burden, can cause injuries if they aren't set up properly.

Repetitive strain injury

From tennis elbow to carpal tunnel syndrome, the human body simply isn't meant to repeat the same tasks over and over. Technique and set-up will make many ailments avoidable, but ensuring it takes education and awareness to make sure that happens. The simple fact is that repetition causes injuries.

For a baggage handler, it's a stream of bags that come in all shapes, sizes and weights. Amid arrivals, departures and connections, a handler moves hundreds of items each day. Handles are included for carry and convenience, but are not always ergonomic for a ramp agent's purposes of moving it from belt to cargo bin.

Work environment

Ergonomic positioning is essential. For an office worker it can make the difference between healthy computing and carpel tunnel. Likewise, the height of a cart or conveyor belt can cause significant and unnecessary strain on the back, neck, joints and the rest of the body. OSHA has detailed diagrams about the proper set-up for equipment, emphasizing lifting technique and angles.

Never push a cart on its own. While there are wheels in place, the carts can exceed 1,000 pounds. If luggage is not flowing from belt to cart smoothly, stop and tweak the equipment's height instead of compensating with your own physical force.

Meanwhile, cramped conditions -- like the cargo bin -- can force a worker to stretch, bend and lift in awkward positions that lead to injury.

Tips to avoid repetitive strain injuries

Equipment set-up and functionality is essential but ramp agents still need to make sure you're keeping loose and allowing muscle recovery in between heavy loads.

  • Stretching exercises will relax muscles and joints.
  • Team and two-handed lifting of objects will distribute weight more evenly.
  • Labeling heavy packages identifies risk in advance.

Education and injury avoidance

Your own technique is important, but employers need to provide a safe workspace and base knowledge to minimize injuries. The airline you work for should provide training and modern equipment such as dollies, braces and carts for heavy or awkward items. Staffing needs to be adequate for volume and -- this is equally important -- you need to be aware of the dangers from improper lifting and exertion.

Injured employees deserve workers' compensation whenever there is an injury. This can be an obvious cause/effect injury like a vehicular accident onsite, or from slips, falls and falling packages, but also from repetitive motion and strain injuries.

Anyone who is injured on the job is eligible for workers' compensation, but sometimes the injury is difficult to pinpoint to a single cause. A specialized workers' comp attorney can help prove cause of injury and walk you through the paperwork to make sure that you're compensated fairly for an injury that came in the line of duty.

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