I’m fortunate enough to be flying to Dublin today for a short golf break. Every time I fly I can never help but be reminded of the airport-based workers who I've represented in claims for compensation for injuries suffered at work.
Airports are a bit like little cities with staff from all walks of life and organisations busy getting people like you and me away and back again from holidays and business trips every day of the year.
Cabin crew, pilots, catering and retail staff, cleaners, technicians and ground crew - I've acted for quite a few over the years, but as I lug my golf clubs and suitcase from the car park onto the bus and then into the terminal and up to the check-in desk before gladly waving goodbye to my luggage for a couple of hours, I spare a thought for the baggage handling staff. It's easy to forget that someone has to actually get everyone’s luggage out onto the aircraft.
From what I’ve learned, shifting a load of suitcases can be extremely hard work. It's not just the weight of bags; baggage-handling staff are under a lot of pressure to load flights as quickly as possible as none of us like to be kept waiting, do we?
Pressure on staff to maintain speedy turnaround times puts them at greater risk of injury so even if ground workers are given proper manual handling training, the impact of any such training can be reduced if they are working against the clock.
Overweight bags are usually marked but I've represented baggage-handlers who have encountered unmarked bags and suffered injuries as a result. Time pressures often make it difficult to assess the weight of particular bags and to 'size them up' before lifting.
The manual loading of baggage, mail sacks and cargo into and out of a plane’s hold where the ceiling can be extremely low presents a significant risk of manual handling-related work injuries to ground staff. I've acted for clients who have suffered injuries from having to lift or move heavy luggage whilst on their knees or stooping. Clearly, having to stack and move heavy bags in such a severely constrained environment can be dangerous.
Even 'safe' systems of manual handling work can have a long-term impact on people's bodies. Lifting heavy objects day in day out for a number of years can undoubtedly contribute to the natural aging or degeneration of joints. The back and shoulders are the areas most affected but other areas such as the neck and knees can also suffer damage, making workers much more vulnerable than they might expect.
Modern airports can often be a great experience with beautiful, clean, modern buildings, the temptations of the duty-free counters and the promise of holiday glamour and excitement. But each time you fly, spare a thought for those working ‘airside’ as it’s seldom so glamorous behind the scenes and a great many people are working hard in often difficult conditions to ensure you get away on time. Then, when your luggage arrives safely on the other side, spare a thought for those who helped it get there.
John Reeder is a Senior Personal Injury Lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
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