Berlin - The passenger terminal at the city's new airport may be just under three months old but trade union Verdi already wants it closed for improvements – security contractor Securitas says its employees are routinely receiving electric shocks while moving passengers through security gates. 

Eleven such incidents – four of which required assistance from emergency personnel – occurred on Monday, 6 January, alone. More than 60 have been recorded since the airport opened – and federal police confirmed that there were problems with electrostatic charges.

The number of unreported cases is even higher, Verdi's Benjamin Roscher told the Berliner Zeitung.

"Some employees are electrocuted several times during a shift. One colleague was hit four times, and she went home for the day," Röscher, a regional district manager, said.

Securitas security guards report severe pain, numbness and drowsiness following the electrocutions, the union official said: "Several times, injured people had to be transported via ambulance to nearby hospitals. Doctors determined that some of the victims were unable to work due to the electric shocks and excused them from work."

Workers are electrocuted during hand luggage checks in BER's Terminal 1, which opened at the end of October. An expert has confirmed electrostatic discharges are to blame, the Berlin office of the federal police said.

"These usually do not lead to injuries, but can cause surprise," a spokeswoman said Monday. The federal police have been aware of the incidents since 12 December, she said, when the first indications surfaced.

X-ray machines where hand luggage is transported on a conveyor belt shock users though not all baggage screening equipment is to blame. Others are notorious for it, Roscher said, with equipment in the main hall in T1 as well as the neighbouring pavilion affected. Unlucky passengers can also fall victim to the shocks, Roscher said.

Changing materials in employee uniforms should also be considered.

Federal police

"After the initial indications, federal police immediately called in its own specialists, experts from the equipment manufacturer as well as the airport operator," federal police said. "The results of an expert opinion, which are now also available, show that all systems comply with the applicable technological standards and regulations."

Charges can come from a variety of sources – for example, when employees wear synthetic clothing or walk on insulated floors with insulated shoes, police said.

Employees have been trained on how to prevent electrostatic charges, for example by wearing electro-static discharge shoes that can dissipate charges. Employees have also been given anti-static key rings, which can discharge voltage and circumvent shocks.

Dissipative floors and floor pads as well as frequent mopping can also reduce the risk.

Return to Schönefeld

"If needed, changing materials in employee uniforms should also be considered," the federal police said.

Roscher says the measures have had little success.

"As a union, we demand that the use of the affected equipment be stopped immediately and until the technical cause of the industrial accidents can be found and eliminated," the Verdi man continued Monday. "The company and federal police's behaviour is grossly negligent. In addition, the ambulance calls and hospitals admissions add pressure to the health care system, which is already severely strained due to corona."

The union wants officials to consider exclusively using Terminal 5, which was previously Schönefeld airport, until the problem is solved. The old airport has plenty of available capacity, Roscher said.

"The already very low passenger volume means there would not even be any limits on air traffic as a result," he said.  

Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg GmbH (FBB), which operates the airport, said it isn't considering a temporary closure.

"The FBB has been in close contact with federal police since the increase in electrostatic discharges. As a result, we know that federal police departments have taken various measures that have already led to a significant reduction in electrostatic discharges," FBB spokesperson Hannes Hönemann said.

"FBB assumes that such incidents can be avoided in the future by following appropriate procedures and taking precautions when carrying out security checks," he said.