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Injury risks airport employees face

On Behalf of | May 19, 2015 | Workers' Compensation

Aircraft loading freight

No place better embodies the hustle and bustle of modern life more acutely than a busy airport. The fast-paced environment presents a multitude of risks for airport employees, who must navigate potentially dangerous situations daily. Illinois employees risk injuries every day, such as back injury from lifting heavy baggage, and hearing loss from prolonged exposure to engine noise. A 2002 report from the U.S. Department of Transportation documents injuries and fatalities of airport employees struck by vehicles on airport aprons. Even cleaning crews and catering personnel risk bodily damage from slips and falls from precarious heights. An Algonquin worker compensation attorney understands that an airport is a vast space in which accidental injury or chemical exposure can lead to long-term health problems for airport workers. The following address several risk factors facing airport employees.

Back injury

Baggage handlers and ticket counter personnel may suffer the debilitating pain of a herniated or ruptured disc due to lifting bags that weigh over 50 lbs. dozens of times each day. In an effort to move things quickly, employees often overreach or twist in ways that cause damage to the spine. Slips, trips and falls may also lead to spinal injury. A variety of crews are responsible for readying an airplane for flight. These employees must make their way quickly through tight spaces, over ramps of varying elevation and among a number of service vehicles traveling at various speeds. Under these conditions, falls can and do happen. A partial list of workers susceptible to injury from a fall includes:

    • Lavatory, water system and maintenance teams


    • Catering support


    • Snow removal crews


    • Fuelers


    • Cargo handlers


Paralysis can occur in instances in which an airport worker is crushed by a vehicle or under heavy machinery, or when a fall results in a severed or severely damaged spinal cord.

Exposure to toxins

According to Boeing, regular exposure to jet fuel can negatively impact the nervous system, resulting in headache, dizziness, and a reduction in motor skill. Inhalation of jet fuel can cause swelling of the lungs and gastrointestinal damage. Exposure to chemicals over time may lead to permanent liver, kidney or brain damage. Jet fuel contains carcinogens such as benzene and toluene, substances that may increase an exposed worker’s risk of developing cancer. Cleaning solvents, sealants, lubricants, and other substances commonly used in maintaining fuel tanks and other machinery can irritate and burn the skin. Carbon monoxide can be another source of lung and nerve damage. Drivers who sit in the cab of a fuel service truck as it idles on the tarmac risk injury and death from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Hearing loss and noise pollution

According to standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an employee is required to wear ear protection in environments in which the noise level climbs above 85 decibels, the level at which prolonged exposure can cause permanent hearing loss and other problems. At 125 dBA a person may start to experience physical pain, and at 140 dBA an eardrum may burst. Jet engines operate at around 140 dBA.  According to OSHA, workers that experience hearing loss due to persistent exposure to loud workplace noise can suffer from increased stress and impaired performance, and may be more likely to be injured in a work-related accident. Other life-altering effects of noise pollution include ulcers, increased blood pressure and hypertension. Some medical conditions stemming from excessive exposure to noise may be treated, while others, such as extreme hearing loss, can be permanent.

Ground service mishaps

Airport operations are a complex symphony of activity. On the ground, crews are rushing to refit airplane cabins for flights while maintenance teams work to keep essential components functioning. Unfortunately, sometimes communication falters and signals get crossed, resulting in a debilitating injury. One vehicle may collide with another, or hit a person who walks into its path. Runway lights may malfunction and cause a worker to suffer electrocution. An Algonquin worker compensation attorney knows that accident and injury can occur at any point from the gate to the top of the ramp at the airplane door.

Illness from communicable disease

While anyone who comes in contact with a person with a communicable disease may contract the illness, certain airport employees may be more at risk. Wheelchair attendants experience a higher probability of exposure to bodily fluids that can transmit disease. Wheelchair attendants, ground transportation workers and others may be vulnerable, as well, to airborne illness. While many diseases are not life threatening and do not usually pose long-term health issues, increased global travel raises the risk of the spread of other, more serious illnesses.

Injury from assault

Considering the amount of human interaction that occurs at a busy airport, injuries sustained from physical assault are fortunately quite rare. Occasionally, however, an altercation will take place that results in bodily harm. An assault is considered a workplace injury when another person hurts the employee while he or she is on the job. Compensation would not apply in the event the employee perpetuated the violence or was otherwise engaged in inappropriate or illegal behavior.

Seek counsel for a workers compensation claim

Illinois follows a no-fault policy for workers compensation, meaning a claim is valid no matter whom or what is to blame for the accident. Sometimes, however, benefits can be reduced or denied. If you have been injured or become ill at your airport employment and think you are entitled to benefits, an Algonquin worker compensation attorney may be able to help you and your family get the legal help you need to recover.