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Sep 23, 2005


Michael J. O'Neill

Mid-Continent Airport (ICT), Wichita, Kansas TSA Screeners on Mandatory Overtime
22 August 2006

“U.S. Transportation Security Administration personnel have been ordered to work 12-hour days with days off canceled. It's an extra burden on a work force that has suffered notorious staff shortages since taking over security at the airport in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks” (The Star Ledger, 2006). "It's not sustainable," a high-ranking TSA official said of the extra demands on screeners” (The Star Ledger, 2006).

Because screeners @ ICT are working extended hours the risk of employee fatigue is therefore greatly increased. Fatigue is defined as “inadequate rest due extended over time caused by long work shifts, disrupted sleep cycles, poor nutrition, work related stress, and decreased visual/perception skills” (Human Performance, 2004). Let’s examine the ways in which employees’ fatigue could adversely affect screening operations and potentially imperil the lives of passengers and flight crews who depend on the alertness of security screeners.
Screeners, assigned to the X-ray machine, who are experiencing fatigue might overlook a deadly object or fail to visually scan an object that appears to be an IED component. Moreover, screeners who are conducting baggage inspections and enduring the oppressive Kansas heat might unintentionally forget to follow SOP protocols for clearing an alarm. Additionally, the risk of accidents at work increases, “the possibility of error related accidents and clear potential for mishaps during the shift” (Human Performance, 2004) should be a particular concern for ICT’s directors and managers. Work related mishaps and the potential increase for back injuries occurring as screeners lift heavier luggage because of the new restrictions on liquids and hygiene products.

According to aviation researchers, “twelve hour shifts are increasingly popular in various aviation/aerospace industries, including security screening, despite its contribution to fatigue and performance degradation” (Human Performance, 2004). Teamwork is critical during screening operations but an employee who is fatigued becomes “an accident waiting to happen” because he/she might forget to announce a “bag check”, become aggressive with a difficult passenger, or angrily challenge the instructions of a supervisor.

Lastly, I encourage ICT’s managers and supervisors to recognize the effects of fatigue, encourage frequent water breaks, monitor their employees’ reactions during passenger interactions at checkpoint, and be more understanding when their employees’ make mistakes instead of immediately “writing someone up” as manager Tammy Cole was so eager to do.

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