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Musculoskeletal Health Research to Benefit Couriers, Messengers, and Baggage Handlers

Posted on by Emily Warner, MA and Jack Lu, PhD, CPE

In October 2017 the NIOSH Musculoskeletal Health Cross-Sector program published the first blog in a series to highlight musculoskeletal health research at NIOSH. With the holiday season coming to an end, this blog—the third installment in the series—will discuss how best to promote musculoskeletal health to reduce the incidence of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) among baggage handlers, mail carriers, and package delivery persons. Because manual lifting and material handling are considered the main risk factors for work-related musculoskeletal disorders, individuals who transport our baggage, parcels, and mail could benefit from recent advances in wearable robotics, lift assist machinery, and ergonomics auditing applications.

In 2015, there were approximately 7 million employees in transportation, warehousing, and utilities (TWU) industries. TWU workers in Air Transportation (which includes baggage handlers) and Couriers & Messengers (i.e. mail and package delivery persons) experienced especially high rates of MSDs1. Job-related tasks in these professions require workers to repeatedly bend, reach, and twist in confined spaces to handle and lift potentially heavy and/or awkwardly-shaped objects. Of every 10,000 workers in 2015, an average 133 couriers/messengers and 211.6 air transportation workers (approximately 5% of which were baggage handlers) reported a musculoskeletal disorder1. Workers in these industries that developed MSDs missed upwards of two months of work2.

The following ergonomic guidelines for job-related manual material handling tasks in baggage handling and postal processing can help workers avoid symptoms of MSDs (e.g. pain, stiffness, swelling, numbness, or tingling in muscles or joints):

  • Plan the workflow to eliminate unnecessary bending, reaching, twisting, and lifting;
  • If you can, use lift-assist devices and equipment to handle heavy, awkwardly shaped, and/or large volumes of baggage, packages, and mail;
  • Redesign workstations and workflow so that you can use the assistive equipment you need.

NIOSH is the only federal entity responsible for conducting research and developing recommendations to prevent work-related injuries across all TWU occupations. The establishment of the Center for Workers’ Compensation Studies (CWCS) in 2013 enhanced NIOSH capacity to research the causes and prevention of musculoskeletal disorders among TWU workers.

Some of the mechanical lift devices or new technologies developed to help prevent MSDs may introduce new risks for workers. See the recent blogs on exoskeletons and robots in the workplace. NIOSH and others must continue to evaluate these new technologies to help ensure that workers are protected. The new NIOSH Center for Occupational Robotics Research (CORR) will provide scientific leadership to guide the development and use of occupational robots that enhance worker safety, health and well-being.

We would love to hear from you in the comment section below about how you have used NIOSH musculoskeletal health research to promote musculoskeletal health and address musculoskeletal risk factors in the fields of baggage handling or mail/package delivery. If you have questions or concerns related to the material in this blog post that you would like to bring to our attention, please leave your comments below.

Emily Warner, MA , is an ORISE Fellow in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.

Jack Lu, PhD, CPE, is a Research Ergonomist in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology and Manager of the NIOSH Musculoskeletal Health Cross-Sector Program.


Missed the first and second blog installments in the Musculoskeletal Health Research at NIOSH series? Read them now:



  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities: Case and Demographic Characteristics for Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses Involving Days Away From Work. Last Updated December 7, 2016.
  2. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. NIOSH Program Portfolio: Transportation, Warehousing and Utilities. Updated July 28, 2017.
Posted on by Emily Warner, MA and Jack Lu, PhD, CPE

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