After years of resistance, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has agreed to work with OSHA to improve the working conditions of flight attendants while aircraft are flying.
In a brief ceremony yesterday in Washington, D.C., OSHA Administrator Charles Jeffress and FAA Administrator Jane Garvey signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that begins the process of applying OSHA standards to flight attendants.
"We believe that a number of OSHA rules will be applicable during aircraft operation, and both airlines and flight attendants will benefit," said Jeffress.
The MOU was welcomed by labor unions representing flight attendants, which have been pressing the FAA and various administrations to take this step for 25 years. Many union representatives were present at the ceremony, wearing "OSHA NOW" T-shirts.
"People never wear ''Hooray! OSHA'' shirts," Jeffress joked.
Until recently, the FAA resisted OSHA intrusion onto its turf, citing fears that aviation safety could be compromised.
Both Jeffress and Garvey denied the election-year move was taken to help Presidential candidate Al Gore win more union votes.
"We''ve been working with the FAA for 18 months on this issue," said Jeffress.
The two agencies are forming a team to review OSHA standards that could be quickly applied to flight attendants: recordkeeping, bloodborne pathogens, noise, sanitation, hazard communication and access to employee exposure and medical records. It is not yet clear whether the application of OSHA standards to flight crews will require formal rulemaking or only public notice and comment.
According to the MOU, airline pilots will still not be covered by OSHA rules.
OSHA has agreed to consult with the FAA before proposing a new standard that would apply to flight attendants to determine whether aviation safety would be affected.
One further question remains unanswered: whether OSHA inspectors will be granted the much-coveted privilege of flying for free on U.S. airlines in order to assure compliance with government regulations.
Until now, only FAA inspectors have been granted free seats, and the issue of whether the agency will now have to share the skies with OSHA may be arousing some inter-agency ire.
When asked by a reporter whether the MOU would allow OSHA inspectors to fly on U.S. flights, Garvey laughed and replied, "Thank you very much for bringing that up."
The MOU signed yesterday is available on OSHA''s Web site at www.osha.gov, under "What''s New."
by James Nash