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Workplace Dangers at New York City’s Airports


The airports in and around New York City are among the busiest in the United States. JFK, in Queens, is ranked as the sixth busiest airport in the country. Newark is ranked the 13th busiest, and LaGuardia, also in Queens, is the 20th busiest. Each year, 25,036,855 passengers board or depart planes through JFK, with smaller numbers at the other two airports.

Of the New York airports, LaGuardia is ranked as the safest when it comes to aviation accidents. But what about accidents that cause injury to the thousands of workers who keep these three airports operating? The high levels of activity mean that these airports employ thousands of workers. These employees work for individual airlines, the airport itself, and a vast number of private contractors and businesses who provide services to the airlines, airports and passengers. And these workers get hurt or even killed while on the job.

Airport workers commonly experience injuries caused by:

  • Being hit by lightening while on the runway
  • Being struck by baggage carts and other vehicles at the gate
  • Falls
  • Lifting heavy baggage and other objects
  • Assaults and personal attacks by passengers or other employees
  • Blasts of hot exhaust from jet engines
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals, fuel and hazardous vapors
  • Excessive noise

A 2014 report by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) is highly critical of the safety conditions at the LaGuardia and JFK. The report especially targets the private contractors who employ many of the workers, citing safety and training lapses that put both workers and the travelling public at risk.

Some of the workplace safety issues reported by NYCOSH include:

  • Not providing adequate personal protective equipment
  • Not informing workers about the toxic chemical exposure they face
  • Exposure to temperature extremes while working outside
  • Not conducting required hazard assessments
  • Exposing workers to the risks associated with blood-borne pathogens
  • Not having routine access to cleaning products

The report includes stories from airport employees. Baggage handlers, who work outside in the cold, reported being scolded for not wearing the uniforms required and instead wearing their own winter clothing. However, many reported that their employers never gave them outside uniforms.

Wheelchair pushers seem especially vulnerable to a wide variety of injuries and illnesses. Although their customers are often sick, the employees are not given gloves because it could embarrass a passenger. They frequently have to clean bodily fluids off the wheelchairs, but just as frequently lack the proper cleaning equipment and supplies. Workers reported that moving and pushing very heavy wheelchair passengers cause a variety of musculoskeletal injuries.

These are only a few of the types of problems faced by workers at the busy New York airports. Read more in the NYCOSH report at 32BJ SEIU.

This information was brought to you by the New York attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy, LLP.