USA Today recently ran a feature on airport baggage screeners and the extraordinarily high rate of injuries that they suffer in the course of their work. Approximately one out of every four workers reports an injury and one out of 8 workers has an injury that requires lost time. Yikes - this makes bag screening one of the nation's most hazardous jobs.
Injured workers at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), more than two-thirds of whom are screeners, missed nearly a quarter-million days of work last year. The lost job time has contributed to a staffing shortage that has strained checkpoint security and lengthened lines at airports.
TSA employees injured on the job missed work in 2004 at five times the rate of the rest of the federal workforce. They were injured four times as often as construction-industry workers and seven times as often as miners.
Most of the injuries are soft tissue strains and sprains resulting from lifting and carrying heavy bags. Since most of the screening machines and checkpoints were added after 9/11 and squeezed in wherever they would fit, few screening stations were designed with an eye to ergonomics. OSHA has issued numerous hazard citations to airports across the country.
Adding to these problems, the TSA staffed up quickly and in most instances, strength tests were not part of the application process, and training - at least from a safety standpoint - was minimal. In a snowballing problem, the more staff injuries and absences there are, the more overworked remaining employees are. According to the article, the staff attrition rate last year was 22%.
This is distressing both for the workers involved and also for airline travelers. Although authorities say that security is not being compromised, it is hard to see how injured, overworked, and poorly trained workers can deliver the best results.