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Airport Screeners, Baggage Handlers Receive Training

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – The Buffalo Niagara International Airport is the first in the entire nation to sign a deal that will help prevent injuries for baggage screeners and handlers. The agreement was signed between the Transportation Security Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration yesterday.

Some air travelers try to jam all kinds of items inside their luggage. Buffalo airport baggage screener Jim Fitzpatrick says it is those heavy bags that often cause injuries to workers. But he says OSHA has already trained them in safe baggage handling, lifting and dealing with other unknown human dangers sometimes found inside travel bags.

"We have gone as far as blood borne and airborne pathogen training," Fitzpatrick said. "It might seem a little bit difficult for workers to stick their hands in people's private bags, but we have to do that. It is unfortunate that we do find things that are not permitted to fly.

"But that's part of the job and we are not here to embarrass or hurt anyone's feelings. We are just trying to make sure the airlines are safe."

Another Buffalo airport baggage screener says travelers are definately packing more than just clothing in their luggage. Linda Ostempowski says she's seen it all from trophy heads to kitchen sinks. She says one traveler literally packed the "kitchen sink" in a suitcase.

"We have seen a kitchen sink, as well as pots and pans, and even canned beans," Ostempowski said. "There has been some very, very unusual items that come through, even trophy heads."

The newly signed agreement will allow OSHA to reduce injuries. There are just over 180 TSA employees at the Buffalo Airport. OSHA's regional administrator Patricia Clark says injuries and illness rates are higher than the federal government rates.

"At OSHA, our bottom line is to try to reduce fatalities, injuries and illnesses," Clark said. "We call it the triple bottom line. We want to see those numbers plummet. We are especially glad we will be working on some of those initiatives at the Buffalo airport."

OSHA says it hopes the Buffalo agreement will serve as a model for airports across the US.