Injuries are a fairly common occurrence among airline ground workers. According to the Flight Safety Foundation, approximately 27,000 accidents and incidents – one per 1,000 departures – occur every year worldwide, and about 243,000 people are injured in these accidents and incidents annually. Human error is the primary cause of these incidents, with approximately 92 percent of accidents traced to failure to follow procedures, inadequate training and airfield congestion. These numbers will come as no surprise to United Airlines ground workers, such as baggage handlers, mechanics and ground crew employees, who work in the intense atmosphere of busy Washington D.C., New York, Denver or Los Angeles airports.
Every time an aircraft lands, airport ground workers are under pressure to get that plane turned around and back in service as quickly as possible. Ground workers, equipment and vehicles are in constant motion around the aircraft, working to manage cargo and baggage, perform aircraft inspections and maintenance, and get the plane refueled, cleaned and restocked for its next flight. Adding to that pressure is the fact that, over the past decade, ground workers have had to adjust to completing these tasks with fewer workers, as cash-strapped airlines have reduced staffing levels. Additionally, in many cases, experienced workers have been replaced by less experienced and lower paid employees. At the same time, regulations passed in 2010 impose fines on airlines when passengers are kept waiting on the tarmac for more than three hours, increasing pressure on ground workers for fast aircraft turnarounds.
These factors create an atmosphere in which employees serving in support positions, like mechanics, baggage handlers, and ground crew team members, may feel pressured by supervisors to let safety procedures slip a little in the interest of speed. A hard-pressed baggage handler may not wait for a spotter or a mechanic may take a short cut, worried not just about the airline schedule, but also about satisfying demanding supervisors and keeping their jobs. Of course, these decisions, made under pressure in a split second, are ones that can lead to those human error accidents.