From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

OSHA Protections Extended to Flight Attendants

A memorandum of understanding was recently signed between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offering new worker protection to flight attendants.

The memorandum establishes “a procedure for coordinating and supporting enforcement of the OSHA Act with respect to the working conditions of employees on the aircraft in operation (other than flight crew).”

“We’ve fought hard to win occupational safety and health protections,” said Patricia Friend, Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) International President. “Quite frankly, it’s about time we were extended the protections most American workers have enjoyed for decades.”

An AFA review of injury and illness logs at 11 U.S. airlines showed that out of 31,024 flight attendants, 10% reported an injury that required follow-up medical attention or caused them to lose time from work in 1998. That’s more than double the injury rate to miners (4.9%), and more than triple the national average of 3.1%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Charles N. Jeffres, OSHA Administrator, commented, “OSHA welcomes the opportunity to work more closely with the FAA to address safety and health issues of concern 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.”

As a first step, the two agencies are forming a team to review OSHA standards on recordkeeping, bloodborne pathogens, noise, sanitation, hazard communication and access to employee exposure and medical records. The team will also look at whistleblower protections. The joint team is to report its findings on applicability of these OSHA requirements by Dec. 6.

Based upon the recommendations of the joint team, FAA will issue a proposed new policy statement on application of OSHA regulations to flight attendant safety and health and request public comment. In turn, OSHA has agreed to consult with the FAA before proposing a standard that would apply to these employees to determine whether aviation safety would be compromised.

Flight attendants suffer painful, often debilitating injuries and illnesses related to:

  • poorly designed and maintained food and beverage carts that can weigh up to 500 pounds
  • cuts and burns from poorly designed galley equipment and oven racks
  • slipping on galley floors and icy walkways
  • handling or being struck by excessive, over-sized and overweight carry-on baggage,
  • exposure to potentially infected blood when providing in-flight emergency medical treatment including mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, without the proper equipment or medical follow-up.

According to the Association of Flight Attendants, the Inspectors’ General Office of the U.S. Department of Transportation recently initiated an investigation of the Federal Aviation Administration’s failure to properly protect flight attendants on the job and 81 U.S. Senators and Congressional Representatives have called upon the Secretaries of Transportation and Labor to provide the proper protection.