Standardisation to improve baggage handling conditions at airports

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Behind the baggage carousels at airports and the modern images of automated sorting lies a less attractive reality. Getting luggage to the aircraft holds always requires the intervention of a handler at one time or another. On average, they can move up to 12 tonnes a day. This handling activity is the cause of accidents at work and occupational illnesses, in particular musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). Standardisation has its place in improving well-being, but it is a complex process to put in place.

In 2005, a working group set up at the initiative of the Netherlands, with the help of Scandinavian countries, prepared the ISO 12604-1 standard “Aircraft ground handling – Checked baggage – Part 1: Weights and dimensions”. Adopted in 2017, this international standard indicating, for example, a maximum of 23 kg for standard baggage, was a first step. But it was the entire baggage handling process that needed to be considered, hence the two draft standards:

  • 12604-2 “Handling directives” on the organisation of the work of service providers in charge of handling activities, which is based on standard NF ISO 11228 “Ergonomics – Manual handling”, adapted here for airport activities, in particular the rate and volume of baggage handled;
  • 12604-3 “Ergonomics of workstations” on the design of baggage areas in new or refurbished terminals.

CRAMIF (the Ile-de-France regional health insurance fund) played an active role in the work on parts 2 and 3 of the standard. It wanted to incorporate as far upstream as possible the recommendations from an ergonomic study carried out in the departure baggage areas at Orly airport in early 2010. With the support of Aéroports de Paris, the airlines, service providers and an inter-company occupational health and prevention service (SPSTi), the study aimed to analyse and make proposals to reduce employee exposure to the risks associated with manual baggage handling (RSI and lower back pain) and being struck by machinery.

The ISO 12604-3 standard incorporates many of the recommendations arising from the ergonomic study. It was adopted in October 2022, unanimously by the voting countries (including Germany, China, France, Russia and Sweden) for publication in November at international level and in February 2023 at French level. The draft ISO 12604-2 standard is currently under public enquiry, with a view to international adoption by the end of 2023.

It should be noted that the CRAMIF has also worked to ensure that MSD prevention is taken into account in the European standards for oil refuelling equipment and airport tractors.

As well as adopting these standards, the challenge is to raise awareness of them so that they are adopted by the various players involved, particularly in connection with the construction or renovation of baggage sorting facilities at airports.


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