Schiphol baggage handlers at risk of occupational diseases from too heavy work
Baggage handlers at Schiphol perform too heavy work, resulting in some suffering from physical problems, NOS and Nieuwsuur report after a joint investigation. Involved company doctors warn that half of the ground staff will develop occupational diseases if they continue this way.
In 2009, the Labor Inspectorate demanded that the baggage and freight companies ensure that their workers don’t have to move too heavy objects. But there haven’t been any further inspections since then. Handling companies’ internal company records show that the standards of the maximum lifting weight are being exceeded, that employees suffer from physical problems, and that it is unwise to do this type of work for years, according to the broadcaster.
Handling companies also do little to ease the heavy lifting and lugging work. In 2004, the Labor Inspectorate found that baggage handlers at Schiphol exceeded the “health-related weight limit” by two to four times when handling luggage. It, therefore, required lifting aids in the luggage basement and roller conveyors in small aircraft to relieve kneeling when stacking suitcases. The Inspectorate called this work “extremely threatening to health.”
But the lifting aids in the luggage basement don’t work properly and are rarely used, NOS and Nieusuur found. And the handling companies at Schiphol supplied insufficient roller conveyors or even none at all.
NOS and Nieuwsuur spoke to about 30 baggage handlers who worked at Schiphol until recently. Sixteen said they had developed health problems because of the heavy lifting, reporting injured backs or torn muscles. Nine said they have permanent injuries - one can’t bend over, another can’t lift things above his shoulders, another’s hand is worn out.
The broadcaster and program also spoke to company doctors. Ernst Jurgens, who worked as a company doctor in KLM’s baggage basement until a few years ago, said he reported occupational diseases - an illness or injury caused by work - 500 times in fourteen years. “An insanely high number.” About 2,000 people worked in the KLM baggage basement during that period. “I ended up wondering what I was actually doing there: helping people recover and then putting them back into the environment where they got sick.”
Another company doctor said he is currently helping 15 to 20 baggage and freight employees who are at home with “direct work-related complaints.” And that is about the same as in previous years. About 300 baggage and freight employees work at his handling company. “This system has to change.”
Various handling companies acknowledged to NOS that the work is physically very demanding, and employees do some of it manually. They said they want to solve the problem by sharing more tools with each other in the future. But according to NOS, that plan has been around for years with nothing happening.
KLM has invested the most in automation but still acknowledged that it has not done enough to prevent occupational diseases.
Swissport, Viggo, and Dnata said that Schiphol is responsible for purchasing lifting aids for the baggage basement. According to Viggo and Swissport, Schiphol stopped the use of lifting aids for arriving flights because they don't work well. Schiphol denied this, telling the broadcaster that the baggage handlers are responsible for using lifting aids.