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February Airfield Worker Death Not An Isolated Incident

Tina Robinson2 years ago

On Feb 21, a worker at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) died from injuries sustained in an accident with a baggage tug tractor. An investigation by the Daily Breeze shows the accident was not an isolated incident.

Details of the Baggage Tug Accident

A statement from LAX at the time of the accident said that Cesar Valenzuela, 51, died when he lost control of a baggage tug he was operating and fell. Reports also indicated that Valenzuela was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident which is a violation of company and federal guidelines.

Cal-OSHA is still conducting an investigation into the accident, but workers interviewed by the Daily Breeze said the accident wasn’t surprising. An airport worker named Jeff Trobaugh said that while safety is a concern, many employees are pressured to be efficient and make sure things happen in a timely manner.

Two Other Baggage Tug Incidents

A public records request turned up two other accidents between October and December 2013 at LAX. The first, more serious accident happened on Oct 15 when a driver lost control and fell off of a tug. The tug proceeded to strike a cargo pallet and mobile bag belt before crashing through a wall. The driver was uninjured in the accident.

The second accident happened on Dec 2 when a worker suffered minor abrasions as a result of a baggage tug.

Furthermore, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have 21 recorded accidents to airport workers involving baggage conveyors at airports nationwide between 1984 and 2011. Five of those accidents were fatal.

Safety Guidelines Not Always Enforced

A spokeswoman for Menzies Aviation, the contractor that employed Valenzuela, said in a statement the company had instituted a strict seat belt policy in January 2013. Anytime an employee leaves the gate area, seat belt use is required. The company also requires employees to inspect tugs before each use and must log 160 hours on an airport airfield before operating a tug.

Airport workers say, however, the “frenetic” nature of airfields takes adjusting to and safety guidelines are not always enforced. Michael O’Toole from the Safety Sciences Program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University told the Breeze, “I would say there has been a resistance by operators to wear them mainly because rules have never really been enforced. Until it becomes sort of an automatic behavior, it is difficult.” 

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