United settles U.S. lawsuit over hazards for baggage handlers

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 27, 2016 4:38 PM

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - United Continental Holdings Inc will install new conveyor belts and take other steps to improve worker safety at its Newark Liberty International Airport hub in New Jersey, after federal inspectors found hazardous conditions in its baggage handling operations there.

The U.S. Department of Labor on Tuesday said the accord resolves its August 2015 lawsuit accusing Chicago-based United Continental of committing a serious violation of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

The Labor Department said United's settlement could become a template for other carriers.

"United Airlines is setting a workplace safety standard that other airlines will be compelled to follow," Jeffrey Rogoff, the department's regional solicitor in New York, said in a statement.

United is the largest airline at Newark Liberty, scheduling close to three-quarters of its flights.

According to the Labor Department, "below-the-wing" handlers who moved baggage between United's aircraft and terminals, and within terminals, were forced to bend, lift, reach or twist awkwardly when collecting items on conveyor belts, loading gate-checked baggage at passenger jet bridges, and loading and unloading baggage in aircraft cargo bays.

As a result, there was increased risk of musculoskeletal injuries such as back, shoulder, and neck strains and sprains, and handlers reported at least 622 such injuries between 2011 and January 2015, the department said.

Under the settlement, United agreed to hire a consultant to examine repetitive stress and injury risks in its Newark Liberty baggage handling operations and adopt the consultant's recommendations or similar measures within two years.

United also agreed to form a dedicated ergonomic safety committee, and pay a $7,000 civil fine.

"The safety of our employees and customers is our top priority," United said in a statement. "We are reviewing our ergonomic practices in order to further improve the work environment for our employees."

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)