Flight Attendants Ask for OSHA Worker Protections

The Association of Flight Attendants asks OSHA to oversee their members' occupational safety and health.

The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) testified on Dec. 10 that the protections offered to most workers by OSHA should apply to cabin crews as well.

"Flight attendants are the only transportation workers with no government agency overseeing their occupational safety and health," AFA President Patricia Friend told a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) panel.

AFA members described a number of challenges they face daily, including poor air quality, oversize carry-on bags, heavy carts and infectious diseases.

OSHA does not have jurisdiction over airline flight crews because of a provision of the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act allowing other federal agencies to assume this responsibility for certain classifications of employees.

In 1975, FAA issued a notice stating that it had such responsibility for promulgating rules, including those covering occupational safety and health, for the safety of civil aircraft.

In 1990, the AFA petitioned FAA urging the agency to issue such rules. However, in 1997 FAA rejected an AFA petition for OSHA coverage.

It does not appear that FAA now would cede responsibility to OSHA for occupational safety and health of flight crews, as the unions urged at the hearing.

In the Federal Register notice announcing the hearing, FAA said it has considered several alternative approaches to occupational safety and health in the industry, including the delegation of certain areas of responsibility to OSHA similar to what was developed by the Federal Railroad Administration in 1978.

"However, the FAA has determined that this would be impractical for several reasons," the agency notice stated. These include:

  • "State OSHA requirements can be more protective than Federal OSHA requirements and can vary among states resulting in multiple standards,
  • "Current OSHA requirements were not developed for aircraft in operation; and
  • "OSHA's jurisdiction is limited to the United States and therefore would not apply to international operations."

The AFA is a labor union representing more than 46,000 flight attendants at 26 airlines.

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