Airline workers face danger on the ground
An aviation company whose employees have quadruple the rate of injuries of other workers in their risk class has been cited by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) for multiple health and safety violations.
The agency found that baggage carts and other powered trucks used by Alaska Airlines and its ground handling contractor, Menzies Aviation at Sea-Tac International Airport in Washington State, pose hazards to the workers who are required to use them.
Baggage handlers at risk
Inspectors found that “Alaska Airlines did not provide safety devices, safeguards, work practices, processes and the means to make the workplace safe from hazards that were causing, or likely to cause, serious physical harm to Menzies ramp agent employees who handle cargo and passenger baggage for Alaska Airlines at Sea-Tac Airport, Seattle, Washington.” Menzies was fined a total of $62,000 concerning 16 violations of state worker health and safety laws.
A Menzies ramp worker was killed at LAX in 2015 when he was thrown from his tug and pinned under one of the tug’s tires. The vehicle did not have seat belts.
4x more injuries
According to L&I, “Menzies employees have approximately a four times higher injury rate than other employees in their risk class.”
“The vehicles and other equipment we use are often poorly maintained and it has led to injuries.,” said Socrates Bravo, a ramp agent who has worked for Menzies Aviation for more than four years.
“It is unacceptable that we have to deal with brake failures, dangerously worn tires, stalling engines and other unsafe conditions,” said Darius Harris who handles baggage for Menzies.
“Unsafe and unhealthy conditions for SeaTac workers has been a concern for our communities for many years,” said Claudia Alexandra Paras, Deputy Director at Puget Sound Sage. “People employed by airline contractors have been put at risk where work is often performed behind secured areas and hidden from public view. We have to continuously bring these issues to public light because when workers are not safe on the job, everyone is affected, including our families, community and the public.”
Last summer, Menzies workers filed a complaint with the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health alleging unsafe vehicles and other ground service equipment “with malfunctioning or deficient engines, brakes, gears, steering, electrical systems, and tires, and other safety violations.” The workers requested a fleet-wide review of all ground service equipment used in the company’s operations at Sea-Tac.
L&I has also opened an investigation of Port of Seattle. Results of that investigation are still pending. Last year a jury assessed $10 million judgment against the Port in a case filed by a contract worker paralyzed in a ramp accident at Sea-Tac.
Expansion will increase congestion
Sergio Salinas, President of Seattle-based SEIU Local 6, said the airport’s planned expansion with new gates and ramp construction will increase congestion. “Putting these projects on pause to give the Port and the airlines time to consider how to make an equal investment in workplace safety is a good place to start.”
In 2013, Alaska Airlines and its contractor were issued citations for multiple serious health and safety violations for failing to protect workers from exposure to corrosive cleaning chemicals, caustic jet fuel, blood borne pathogens, and body fluids including vomit, urine, feces and blood.