16/09/2005

Airport check-in workers: When checking in becomes a pain

Persistent back pain, sore necks, insults, stress, management practices
contributing to ill health. Contrary to all clichés about glamour jobs in the
airlines, the profession of airport check-in agent can be difficult, even
dangerous. A recent study by Ellen Rosskam, Senior Work Security Specialist in
the ILO Socio-Economic Security Programme, brings to light for the first time
the difficulties of this line or work - which is mostly performed by women -
and looks at ways to make things better.

Rosskam states: "We were surprised at the high number of workers suffering from
severe MSD. Unfortunately, these health problems, whose professional origin is
obvious, are rarely recognized as work-related illnesses in Switzerland or
Canada. The difference in the prevalence of MSD between workers equipped with a
mechanized baggage handling system and those at a manual baggage check-in
system is not immense. In other words, even with entirely mechanized equipment,
check-in workers must often grasp, push, pull, lift and carry heavy loads. But
they are not trained to do so safely. And they are often constrained to
manipulate loads of several dozens of kilos in difficult postures; for example,
when suitcases become blocked on the conveyor belt and check-in workers must
break up the jam. In any case, it is better to have a mechanized system, which
reduces the risk of back and neck injury and other MSDs."

"Check-in workers are also subjected to immense stress. Present management
practices applying 'just in time' policies mean that workers should check in
passengers (including check-in and baggage handling) in around three minutes.
But if for any reason the agent spends more time - such as with a passenger who
doesn't understand the instructions, or with an elderly passenger who may move
more slowly with their baggage, etc. - they must try hard to make up the time
later, because at the end of the line is an airplane waiting to take off. A
missed schedule is costly. At the check-in counter, the agent knows this very
well. So you can imagine the pressure. At the same time, workers are not
consulted about the organization of their work, they do not have a voice in
workplace decision-making, nor are they consulted about problems they may be
experiencing. Communication is top-down only, whereas it could easily be
top-down and bottom-up. This environment, full of repetitive physical effort
and stress due to existing management practices, favours the occurrence of
MSD."

Further Information


AplusA-online.de - Source: International Labour Organisation (ILO)