The Denver International Airport is considered the world’s second-largest based on land area. With more than 52 square miles, it’s even larger than Manhattan. And like Manhattan, the airport welcomes millions of visitors each year and also has an ice-skating rink, but not quite as famous as the one at Rockefeller Center.
With crowds that sometimes reach close to 200,000 per day, Denver International Airport must do its utmost toward catering to travelers. This includes restaurant workers to serve them food; custodians to clean up after them; pilots, flight attendants and traffic controllers to guide them; and baggage handlers to ensure that their luggage makes it to the right destination.
Baggage handling can be a strenuous job in lifting numerous passenger bags per day, while being under great pressure for speedy turnarounds. After all, that flight should try to leave on time. However, working in such a stressful environment can lead to workplace injuries.
You’re lifting and maneuvering bags of all weights and sizes. Some are heavy, while some are awkwardly shaped. How do you lift a package that’s the size and shape of a giraffe? Repetitive stress injuries aren’t uncommon among baggage handlers, and can cause carpal tunnel syndrome, lower back pain, neck and shoulder pain, aching knees, and damage to muscles and tendons.
But repetitive stress injuries are not the only injury airport workers sustain in the line duty. People fall, and have heavy things fall on them. People get run over and crushed. They get cut, they get sick, and can experience amputation, fractures, cardiac arrest, and heat stroke. It’s important to stay mindful of all possible types of injuries and how to reduce your risk of such airport injuries.
If you want to maintain a long and safe career working as a baggage handler at an airport, here are some tips to consider:
· Learn proper lifting techniques. It’s not just your supervisor’s responsibility to train you, because you, too, must take initiative. Doing so just may help you avoid an injury. For example, bend your knees when lifting.
· Use carts or dollies to store and move large and heavy luggage. Don’t try to handle them by yourself.
· Don’t move heavily loaded carts or multiple carts manually. Use a baggage tractor instead.
· Carts should be parked three to five feet from beltloaders to minimize carrying distances.
· If one person is working, position the cart at an angle to the beltloader.
· If two people are working, position the cart perpendicular to the beltloader.
· When loading baggage into a plane, position the end of the beltloader just above the floor of the cargo bin. This allows bags to be easily slid into the cargo bin.
· When taking baggage off a plane, position the end of the beltloader just below the lip of the cargo bin. This allows bags to be easily slid onto the beltloader.
· When taking heavy or oddly-shaped items down from the loading bridge, use the slide or shoot rather than manually carrying the item.
· Learn about and perform stretching exercises that will loosen your muscles and joints, making them more flexible. Athletes do this, because it helps them play longer and prevents potential injuries. The older you are, the more important stretching becomes.
· Don’t attempt to catch falling baggage, because it may strike you and cause an injury. Airport workers are recommended not to throw baggage, but this commonly happens due to time constraints. If you throw luggage, make sure it doesn’t strike an unsuspecting worker.
· Look where you are going and avoid a slip-and-fall injury. You don’t want to fall because you overlooked a puddle of water on the floor. Also, make sure to wear good shoes.
In some ways, baggage handlers are getting a physical workout without having a gym membership. But as any exercise trainer knows, it’s important to stretch and use common sense when using certain gym equipment. The same goes for nearly any job that imposes physical stress on your body.
It’s also important to know the most common types of injuries that occur for baggage handlers working at an airport.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has created an e-tool covering work injuries resulting from airport baggage handling procedures. The section on baggage handling in the ramp area looks at manual handling, semi-automated handling and automated handling:
· Workers can suffer injuries when they handle heavy, large or oddly-shaped items.
· Bending over to tag bags can cause repetitive stress.
· Lifting items with only one hand can put intense stress on one side of the body, and cause hand fatigue. As well as using extended arms to lift and move bags.
· Handling uneven loads or two bags at a time can result in injuries to muscles, ligaments, and the back.
· Parking a cart too close to the beltloader can result in repeated twisting and increase the possibility of injury.
· Parking a cart too far from the beltloader can needlessly increase a worker’s exertions. It also increases the danger when there is snow or ice on the surface of the loading area.
· Regarding carts, back injuries can occur when reaching far into a cart to retrieve an item. Shoulder injuries can occur when removing bags from the second shelf.
· Positioning the end of a beltloader too high or too low relative to the cart can result in stress to the shoulders, arms and back.
· Inside the baggage compartment of a plane, workers can suffer back and neck injuries due to the cramped space or need to twist the torso repeatedly.
· Injuries can also occur when workers take heavy or oddly-shaped items down from the loading bridge.
· Pushing heavy carts or baggage containers can injure the back and shoulders.
In fact, shoulder injuries are among the most common work injuries that baggage handlers experience.
Often presenting as persistent shoulder pain, shoulder impingement occurs when a bone in the shoulder pinches or constricts the tendons or bursa. Shoulder impingement is a serious condition which requires treatment or risk of further injury. New research, however, calls into question the effectiveness of the commonly ordered shoulder impingement surgery.
According to the article posted in Science Daily by researchers at the University of Helsinki, the number of shoulder impingement surgeries has increased significantly in recent years, without any solid evidence of its effectiveness.
The research, released in July of 2018, compared surgical treatment of shoulder impingement to a placebo surgery. The study found that two years later, both groups reported the same outcome: little to no shoulder pain.
If given the choice between having a surgery or undergoing physical therapy for shoulder impingement, most people would probably choose the less invasive physical therapy. But regardless of choice, it’s helpful to have the facts before going under the knife.