United Airlines has reached a settlement with the US Department of Labor (DOL) over a lawsuit that alleged “hazardous conditions” for United’s baggage-handling workers at New York Newark International Airport (EWR).
The lawsuit was filed in 2015 following an inspection by DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which said United baggage handlers at the airline’s EWR hub had suffered more than 620 injuries from 2011-2015 as the result of “lifting customer baggage using awkward postures.”
To settle the lawsuit, United has agreed to install mechanical conveyor belts on passenger jet bridges at EWR. “Mechanical conveyors will reduce employee exposure to known hazards by eliminating the need for the handlers to lift and lower passenger luggage to and from the jet bridges manually,” DOL said in a statement.
United has also agreed to “retain a qualified expert to perform an evaluation of potential repetitive stress or injury risks in baggage-handling operations at [EWR] and to make recommendations to improve worker safety there,” DOL said, adding that “the airline must adopt the expert’s recommendations or similar measures to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injury, and form a dedicated safety committee comprised of the expert, as well as both management and employee representatives from the airline.”
DOL called the settlement “precedent-setting.” United said in a statement that worker safety is a top priority.
United has recognized a “responsibility to protect workers from the many hazards that can cause musculoskeletal injuries,” OSHA regional administrator-New York Robert Kulick said. “With this agreement, United will take the steps necessary to prevent its employees from suffering unnecessary injuries due to its deficient baggage-handling operation.”
United has 90 days to complete the expert evaluation of its EWR baggage-handling operations and two years to implement the expert’s recommendations, according to DOL. United will allow OSHA to monitor the expert’s evaluation and the implementation of his or her recommendations, the department said.
“United Airlines is setting a workplace safety standard that other airlines will be compelled to follow,” DOL said.
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