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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for the first time will be able to enforce certain occupational safety and health standards currently not covered by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversight, under a policy announced Aug. 22, 2013.
The FAA announced that OSHA standards on bloodborne pathogens, hearing conservation and hazard communication will apply to airline cabin crews. Other OSHA standards, such as those for record-keeping and whistle-blowing, already apply to all air carrier employees.
The two agencies will develop procedures to ensure that OSHA does not apply any requirements that could adversely affect aviation safety, the notice said.
OSHA said it expects to be able to respond to complaints without needing to inspect aircraft while in operation. Also, aircraft will not be subject to multiple sets of rules as they fly into and out of states. The standards will not apply to pilots and co-pilots, and the FAA will retain its jurisdiction over other aircraft cabin health and safety conditions, including sanitation.
“Safety is our number one priority for both the traveling public and the dedicated men and women who work in the transportation industry,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “It’s important that cabin crewmembers on our nation’s airlines benefit from OSHA protections, including information about potential on-the-job hazards and other measures to keep them healthy and safe.”
The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) hailed the announcement as a correction “of a nearly four-decade old exclusion of OSHA in the passenger cabin.”
“AFA welcomes the opportunity, as the voice for flight attendants, to ensure full implementation of these critical protections,” said Veda Shook, AFA international president. “We appreciate the efforts of FAA and OSHA to bring workplace safety and health standards into the cabin. This change will improve the working conditions of tens of thousands of flight attendants while benefiting the millions of passengers who travel on commercial flights every day,” she said.
Flight attendants have long sought coverage under the Occupational Safety and Health Act but were stymied by an oversight dispute created by a jurisdictional vacuum, as the FAA governs aircraft safety but not occupational issues inside the cabin.
In 1975, the FAA claimed exclusive jurisdiction over workplace safety and health for all crewmembers, preventing OSHA, the agency that regulates the safety and health of most U.S. workers, from protecting flight attendants and other crewmembers while working onboard commercial airline flights.
Through the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Congress required the FAA to develop a policy outlining the circumstances in which OSHA requirements could apply to crewmembers while they are working onboard aircraft.
The policy will be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, which is expected soon. OSHA will conduct outreach and then begin enforcement activities after the first six months from the effective date.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.
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