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FAA Wants OSHA to Enforce Some Occupational Safety and Health Standards

Dec. 4, 2012
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration is reaching out to OSHA, proposing a new policy to improve workplace safety for flight attendants.

In the past, worker safety sometimes has taken a back seat on the plane to aviation safety in general. Soon, however, the skies might become friendlier for flight attendants and other crew members. While the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) aviation safety regulations continue to take precedence, the agency is proposing that OSHA be able to enforce certain occupational safety and health standards currently not covered by FAA oversight.

“Safety is our highest priority and that certainly extends to those who work in the transportation industry,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Under this proposal, flight attendants would, for the first time, be able to report workplace injury and illness complaints to OSHA for response and investigation.”

“The policy with the FAA will not only enhance the health and safety of flight attendants by connecting them directly with OSHA but will, by extension, improve the flying experience of millions of airline passengers,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis.

Flight attendant workplace issues could include things such as exposure to noise and bloodborne pathogens, and access to information on hazardous chemicals. The FAA and OSHA will continue to work to identify any additional conditions where OSHA requirements could apply. They also will develop procedures to ensure that OSHA does not apply any requirements that could affect aviation safety. 

“Flight attendants contribute to the safe operation of every flight each day,” said acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “This proposed policy is an important step toward establishing procedures for resolving flight attendant workplace health and safety concerns.”

“We look forward to working with the FAA and the airlines to assure the protection of flight attendants,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

Through the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Congress required the FAA to develop a policy statement to outline the circumstances in which OSHA requirements could apply to crew members while they are working on aircraft.

Flight Attendants React

In a letter to the members of the Association of Flight Attendants – CWA, which represents nearly 60,000 flight attendants at 21 airlines, AFA – CFA President Veda Shook, Vice President Sara and Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Creighan, wrote: “For decades AFA has pursued legal and regulatory solutions to extend OSHA safety and health protections to workers in the airline industry.  The roadblocks have been enormous, but our union kept this as a priority…”

The union has been lobbying for more oversight of workplace safety and health measures since 1975, when the FAA claimed exclusive jurisdiction over workplace safety and health for all crewmembers, preventing OSHA from protecting flight attendants and other crewmembers while working on-board commercial airline flights.

“AFA looks forward to continuing work with the FAA and OSHA as we finally bring vital safety and health protections to our nation’s flight attendants,” said Shook. “We welcome the opportunity to serve as the voice for flight attendants as we close this long overdue loophole.

AFA flight attendants have been “forceful advocates” for OSHA protections, Shook noted, adding that the union appreciates the efforts of FAA and OSHA “to ensure safety and health standards for those working inside our nation’s aircraft cabins; a change that will also benefit the millions of passengers who travel on commercial flights.”

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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