Operator stress affects performance at airport X-ray scanners

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  • Published: Aug 28, 2014
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Base Peak / Chemometrics & Informatics / MRI Spectroscopy / Raman / Proteomics / X-ray Spectrometry / Infrared Spectroscopy / UV/Vis Spectroscopy / Atomic / NMR Knowledge Base

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When you fly, you want to be sure that the baggage on board your plane has been checked out for threats like handguns. You might think that passing them through the X-ray scanners would do the trick but it all depends on the operating staff - not just their experience and vigilance, but also their stress.

A research team from Switzerland has shown that increased levels of stress will impair the performance of the staff. Working with volunteers who had no experience of X-ray baggage screening, they divided them into stress and non-stress groups. The latter were allowed to relax by reading newspapers and magazines in a quiet room while the stress group were given a mock interview and a short maths test in front of a panel of evaluators and a conspicuous camera and microphone.

The stress levels were estimated from the amount of cortisol in the saliva by a fluorescence immunoassay. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid that is released during stress and crosses from the blood into the brain, to affect cognitive functions.

Sure enough, higher cortisol equated to poorer performance when examining x-ray images of baggage containing threats like guns and knives. This has obvious implications for conditions in the workplace of scanner personnel at airports, as well as training programs.

As the team said "Our findings of impaired X-ray ORT detection performance by stress-induced cortisol increases indicate that efforts to reduce stress both on a situational level (e.g. at the security checkpoint) and on a personal level (e.g. by specific stress management in screeners' education and training) may contribute to increased x-ray screening efficiency and aviation security."

So, if you see any anxious security personnel when you next pass through a checkpoint, it might be worth while trying to relax them by having a chat. That gun they miss might be bound for your flight.


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