Half of all baggage handlers working at Schiphol airport are at risk of developing debilitating physical problems if current working practices continue, an investigation by broadcaster NOS and Nieuwsuur has shown.
Health and safety body Arbeidsinspectie was found not to have checked up on working conditions in the sector at any time in the last 12 years, the investigation found.
The last time it looked, in 2004, it found baggage handlers’ work load exceeded accepted Arbo health guidelines, meaning they frequently lifted more than 23 kilos several times a day, including more than 5 kilos in postures that risk damaging their backs.
Although lifting equipment and roller conveyors were prescribed, neither is being used in practice and nothing has changed since then, the investigation showed, while blame shifting means workers’ concerns are rarely acted on.
The investigation also revealed that baggage handling providers, forced to come up with ever cheaper prices to bag a Schiphol contract, have known for years that the work is detrimental to health and that workers are unlikely to stay the course.
‘There is so much competition and that means the service will have to be cheaper … and that influences working conditions,’ a director of human resources at baggage handling provider Swissport told the programme.
Nos and Nieuwsuur interviewed some 30 current and former baggage handlers about conditions. Nine said they sustained permanent damage to their backs because of the work while others reported damage to shoulders, hands, knees and back.
Ernst Jurgens, a former Schiphol company doctor, told the programme he quit because he was ‘getting people back on their feet just to return them to a sick-making environment.’ Jurgens said the number of people with work-related injuries came to 500 in 14 years, ‘a riduculously high number’, he said.
In a reaction, baggage handling providers Swissport, Viggo and Dnata recognised the work is physically demanding and that they want to ‘share lifting and transport aids’.
The providers point the finger at Schiphol, which they say is responsible for providing the equipment and are accusing the airport of switching them off altogether for incoming flights because they don’t work properly.
Schiphol denies the allegation, saying the baggage handlers themselves are responsible for the use of the equipment.
Union FNV said it wants to discuss the use of lifting equipment at the airport as soon as possible, both with Schiphol and the baggage handling providers.
The Arbeidsinspectie said in a comment it was ‘disappointed’ agreements had not been kept and said it would carry out another inspection ‘shortly’.
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