Common risks associated with belt loaders

Muscular Man with BackacheAn employee with DHL Airways, Inc., was working with a baggage loader in the early morning in June 2000. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the employee had unknowingly positioned his foot under the edge of the loader. The operator turned on the machine, lowering the frame and crushing the employee’s foot. The employee was hospitalized for his injuries.

An airplane injury attorney would know that belt loaders, while increasing efficiency on the job, can also increase the risk of an unfortunate incident. Those who work in the industry should be aware of the potential hazards associated with the equipment.

A belt loader overview

There is no one-size-fits-all belt loader, as different aircraft will require different types of equipment. However, they all have the same function: to ease the process of moving cargo such as baggage to and from the airplane. Each loader is on wheels and has a moving conveyor belt. The equipment comes with safety features such as emergency shutoffs, safety rails around the belt and spotlights. Even with all the safety equipment in place, belt loaders can pose a threat to worker safety.

Musculoskeletal injuries

Anyone who works with airline baggage could be subject to sustaining an injury solely based on the manual labor involved. Suitcases and other cargo can be quite heavy. Additionally, workers may try to speed up their jobs by carrying two bags at a time. While this can boost efficiency, it also often means that an employee is carrying an uneven load, placing undue stress on muscles and joints.

Further, the position of the belt loader itself will affect how much strain a worker experiences when moving baggage. As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration points out, a loader that is too low will mean that employees are having to bend over, which can lead to back injuries. On the other end of the spectrum, a loader that is too high will mean employees have to raise their shoulders, creating vulnerability in that area of the body.

There are several things people can do to avoid these types of injuries, including the following:

  • Place the loader at waist height when workers are moving bags from the loader onto the cart.
  • The loader should be level with or below the bottom of the cart when workers are moving bags from the cart to the loader.
  • Workers should never attempt to lift loads greater than they can handle.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that roughly 20 percent of all workplace injuries are back injuries. While many people are tempted to wear a back belt to prevent such incidents, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health notes that there is not enough evidence to suggest that the devices prevent injuries.

Operational hazards

Another common way workers could get injured while using belt loaders is during the operation of the vehicle. OSHA points out that anytime a gas- or diesel-fueled loader is left unattended, there is the threat that it may collide with another vehicle or aircraft. Therefore, workers should always shut off the engine or place the machine in park when the vehicle is not in use or not attended.

Because the belt on the machine is movable, there is always the possibility that a worker could suffer a caught-in or caught-between injury. OSHA recommends never raising or lowering the belt while the vehicle is in motion. Further, when operators are driving the loader, the conveyor belt should always be in the lowered position. Workers must always be aware of where their arms and legs are in reference to the belt. Before raising or lowering the conveyor, the operator should be sure to alert all employees.

Driving dangers

A collision or struck-by incident is always a threat to airline workers. Belt loader operators are advised to drive within the speed limits. Whenever possible, the vehicle service road should be used in order to prevent having to maneuver congested areas. OSHA points out that belt loaders have certain clearances for both height and length. Drivers should never attempt to move under an aircraft or through areas that may be prohibited, such as narrow or enclosed tunnels.

Operators should also take measures to protect themselves. For example, remaining seated while the vehicle is in motion is a necessity, as is wearing a seatbelt whenever one is available. Employees should never attempt to catch a ride on a loader unless there is a seat available. Lastly, many loader drivers rely on guides to direct them on where to go at a gate. These guides should always stand on the driver’s side of the vehicle instead of directly in front of it.

Mechanical failure

A belt loader is a machine, and as any airplane injury attorney knows, machines can fail and lead to crushing injuries. Before ever operating a belt loader, employees should perform a thorough inspection of the vehicle. OSHA suggests that workers should inspect the loaders at the beginning of every shift for potential problems including low-pressure tires, leaks in engine fluid and low fuel.

After the visual inspection is completed, workers should conduct an operational check to assess how the horn, lights, steering, brakes and transmission are functioning. For walk-behind loaders, workers should always ensure that the handle brakes and emergency stop brakes are in good condition.

When an on-the-job injury does occur, it is important that workers know what to do in order to secure the maximum workers’ compensation benefits allowed. Anyone with questions on the matter should consult with an airplane injury attorney.