Health risks of disabled transport Schiphol, the airport does not control

NOS News

  • Milena Holdert

    reporter News Hour

  • Milena Holdert

    reporter News Hour

Staff who take disabled passengers to and from the plane at Schiphol have been exposed to health risks for years. This is evident from internal documents used to map the risks, which are in the hands of NOS and news hour.

The safety expert who had to check the documents of the disabled transport company Axxicom confirms the poor health and safety situation at the company. Axxicom is aware of the shortcomings, but, according to him, does not adequately address the risks. Schiphol also has the documents, but has never taken any action.

The research editors for NOS and news hour has had frequent contact with both Schiphol and Axxicom on the matter in recent weeks. Today, Axxicom announces that they have updated and corrected the risk documentation.

Heavy work

This week, research from NOS and news hour that baggage and cargo companies at Schiphol have for years made their staff perform physically demanding work and that some employees struggle with physical problems. Schiphol says that there is not much that can be done about this because the baggage companies do not have a contract with the airport, but with the airlines.

It now appears that staff at the disabled transport company Axxicom are also overworked. Schiphol has a contract with Axxicom, but still says it is not aware of the dangers.

Moving passengers with walking difficulties is hard work. Employees say anonymously that on a daily basis they push passengers with luggage in non-motorized wheelchairs and manually lift them onto their plane seats. Passengers usually weigh more than lifting standards allow, sometimes paralyzed people weighing more than 100 kilos. There are no lifting aids.

Companies are obliged to map risks for their staff in the so-called ‘risk assessment and evaluation’ (RI&E). The standard is to update it every five years. Until recently, Axxicom had a 2014 RI&E.

This RI&E contains crystal clear conclusions. The work leads to “overloading and wear and tear of joints and muscles”. One works with “loads heavier than 25 kg”, with “bent and/or twisted back”. The advice is to look for lifting aids. In conversations with employees, the researchers also sense a “great fear that findings can be traced back to the person”, they write.

The Working Conditions Act not only obliges companies to prepare risks, but also to prepare an action plan with solutions, and to have this checked by an expert. However, Axxicom’s RI&E from 2014 contains no action plan, nor has it been tested, according to the documents.

Haven’t read myself

In 2019, the company signed a new contract with Schiphol. Axxicom then asked security expert Tiemen van der Worp to check the documents anyway. Van der Worp refused because a suitable plan of approach was lacking. He wrote to Axxicom that the burden on employees is “alarmingly high” and that “work-related health problems” are to be expected, “even among robust employees”.

In recent weeks, the research editorial team has corresponded extensively with Schiphol and Axxicom. Schiphol stated that it had requested Axxicom’s RI&E in 2019 and was told that it had been tested and was in order.

Schiphol says it has not read the documents themselves, including the risks. The simple fact that Axxicom said it had it was enough. However, according to the airport, doubts have now arisen about the quality and testing of RI&E. “Doubt must be removed. That is why it is good that Axxicom has the documents tested again,” says a spokesman.

No access to the documents

Axxicom stated that it believed the 2014 RI&E had been tested. The company said it was “shocked” by the findings and began an investigation. Today, Axxicom announces that it has an updated and tested RI&E with an action plan.

However, the company does not want to provide access to documents, nor does it comment on whether it wants to buy automated wheelchairs or mechanical lifting aids.

Axxicom further confirms that the work leads to physical strain, but says it is “constantly taking steps” to “control” the lifting strain. For example, employees never lift passengers onto the plane alone, according to the company, but with two supervisors.

Previously, we made this video about Nieuwsuur and NOS’s investigation into baggage transport at Schiphol.

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