United Airlines will revamp the workflow for baggage handling at Newark Liberty International Airport under a settlement with the federal agency for workplace safety.
Between 2011 and the start of 2015, the airline's baggage handlers reported at least 622 musculoskeletal injuries, according to the Occupational and Safety and Health Administration.
Many of those injuries could be traced to baggage-handling configurations that forced workers to stoop, bend, lift, or twist in ways that caused injuries that could have been avoided.
The agreement settles a lawsuit filed last year after OSHA's Parsippany office inspected United's Newark facility and found flaws it said contributed to the site's "high rate of injuries."
The settlement was announced Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Labor. It includes a $7,000 fine.
The airline agreed to redesign its work stations to provide more automation, change required tasks to reduce the risk of repetitive motion injuries and eliminate the double-decker baggage conveyor belts that necessitated too much bending or lifting.
"The safety of our employees and customers is our top priority. We are reviewing our ergonomic practices in order to further improve the work environment for our employee," United said in a statement.
OSHA found five hazardous conditions or required activities. Among them was one that has become more common in recent years as baggage fees prompt more passengers to carry their luggage onto the plane. When too many passengers try to bring aboard their bags, the overflow is manually loaded and unloaded by handlers in the passenger jetways, the original complaint stated.
At a different work station, handlers had to lift bags with one hand while scanning them with the other hand, a cumbersome requirement that produced injuries, the settlement said.
The settlement may become a template for how OSHA handles other airline baggage departments.
"This settlement will have long-term safety implications for the baggage-handling industry," said Jeffrey S. Rogoff of the Labor Department. "As one of the world's leading airlines, United Airlines is setting a workplace safety standard that other airlines will be compelled to follow."
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