New Vacuum Lifting System Test for Airline Baggage Handlers

With improper lifting probably being the greatest single cause of back pain and injury, NIOSH, in collaboration with the Ohio State University, has published an article in Applied Ergonomics on the effectiveness of a vacuum lifting system in reducing spinal strain or loading during airline baggage handling.

The study evaluated the techniques (i.e., manual lifting or lifting with vacuum lift system), task (i.e., loading or unloading suitcase), and baggage cart shelf height (61cm or 133.4cm) on lumbar spinal loads of ten subjects, who performed industry average loading and unloading tasks (e.g. 14.5kg) in a laboratory.

The study found that on average, use of the vacuum lifting assist device reduced compression and shear forces on the lower back by 39% and 25%, respectively. In fact, these forces were reduced below the damage threshold for musculoskeletal injury.

The load reduction primarily results from the vacuum lifting device’s ability to support the entire weight of the bag. In addition, using the lifting assist device can result in better posture for lifting by keeping the back straighter.

The Institute plans on sharing the study findings with safety professionals and worker unions in the airline industry.

OSHA has reported that “Back strains due to overexertion represent one of the largest segments of employee injuries in the American workplace. Only the common cold accounts for more lost days of work.”

The National Safety Council has stated that overexertion is the cause of about 31 percent of all disabling work injuries. Injuries to the back occur more frequently than do injuries to any other part of the body, so it’s very important to understand just why types of acts are likely to strain our backs and how to perform tasks in ways that reduce the risk.

In general, other kinds of back injuries include:

  • Muscle spasms, which are usually caused by tension or stress;
  • Strain and sprains, the result of too much exertion of weak muscles or incorrect lifting;
  • Slipped discs, which are tears or other damage to the disc between the vertebrae, causing the vertebrae to rub together and irritate or damage the spinal nerves; or
  • Hernias, which are ruptures in the abdominal wall caused by strains from lifting.