Managing the varying levels of cognitive workload for TSOs is a high priority for the TSA. Sensory and perceptual load impact the TSOs’ decision-making, vigilance, and attention, all of which are of the utmost importance when working within an airport checkpoint environment. TSA understands the need to develop techniques to optimize attention allocation; logical reasoning; pattern recognition and classification; visual search and visual memory strategies; and problem solving for TSOs which should include physiological, behavioral, cognitive, and environmental assessments. (Bonnie Kudrick, 2014)
With the widespread and sometimes fatal outcomes of COVID and its evolving variants, there are constant stressors that affect the TSO workforce. Workplaces, such as airports, checkpoints are common setting s for infectious disease outbreaks due to transmission between TSOs and passengers. The current Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures that have been relied upon comprise regulations for using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), environmental adjustments, social distancing, adding physical barriers, training on IPC measures, signage, quarantining, testing, environmental cleaning, guidelines and recommendations from the federal government and the CDC.
Workplaces remain a high-risk environment for COVID variant outbreaks, creating concern for the health and well-being to TSOs, passengers and their families. The potential of contracting Covid or contaminating others is a concern for the population in general. However, TSOs come face-to-face with passengers during their work shift. Some of the TSOs job tasks require getting close to passengers. Although the required PPE is worn, there is still risk in these job tasks. This is a concern every day for TSOs that then must go home to their families and worry that they may carry COVID. Understanding that these job tasks must be conducted to ensure aviation security, it is TSA’s responsibility to mitigate these stressors for the TSO.
The importance of educating TSOs on this topic needs to be presented carefully as to help them identify what they are experiencing, not to tell them what they are experiencing. A SME in this area will have the right balance to present this information effectively.
Workers can suffer increased feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, irritation, anger, and denial. It is not uncommon to lack motivation, have trouble sleeping or concentrating and to feel tired, overwhelmed, burned out, sad, and even depressed (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 2020), along with negative effects on productivity.
The goal of the TSO is educate each other on the recognition of these stressors in the workplace as well as to normalize and validate the negative effects and associated behaviors by conducting virtual or in-person short baseline surveys, General Anxiety dDisorder-7 (GAD) assessments, such as irritability, lack of motivation, tiredness, having trouble sleeping or concentrating, and experiencing somatic pain.
It is important to offer legitimate stress-relief techniques to follow through with these evaluations. Open communication in the workplace, deep breathing exercises, brainstorming, taking breaks and encouraging that “It’s okay not to be okay” can facilitate an avenue for open communication from staff. See the chart below: