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Gelman: OSHA Fines Airline for Retaliating Against Workers Who Reported Hazardous Fumes

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Federal safety and health investigators have determined that one of the nation's largest airlines retaliated against flight attendants who reported worker illnesses caused by toxic fumes entering aircraft cabins.

Jon L. Gelman

Jon L. Gelman

Toxic fumes in airplanes can have a significant effect on flight crews, as well as passengers and the general public. These fumes, known as aerotoxic syndrome, are caused by releasing toxic chemicals into the cabin air supply. These chemicals can originate from a variety of sources, including engine oil leaks and the use of certain cabin air filters.

Exposure to toxic fumes can cause various health problems for flight crews, including headaches, fatigue, dizziness and difficulty concentrating. In more severe cases, it can lead to neurological damage and long-term health issues. The symptoms of aerotoxic syndrome can also affect flight crews' performance and ability to safely operate the aircraft. This can lead to errors and accidents, endangering the flight crew and the passengers.

The long-term effects of exposure to toxic fumes can also be detrimental to the health of flight crews. Studies have linked exposure to toxic cabin air to an increased risk of cancer, as well as other chronic health problems such as respiratory and neurological disorders.

The aviation industry has taken steps to address the issue of toxic fumes on airplanes. Many airlines now use HEPA filters, which can help to remove toxic chemicals from the cabin air. Some airlines also have procedures for dealing with suspected fumes.

Toxic airplane air can have a significant impact on the health and well-being of flight crews. It can cause many immediate and long-term health problems, affecting their ability to safely operate the aircraft. The aviation industry has taken steps to address the issue, but more needs to be done to ensure the health and safety of flight crews.

If you are curious about the quality of the air you breathe on an airplane, get an SAF Aranet 4 meter and measure some of the quality of the air on planes. I brought it along on a recent United Air Lines flight and just watched as the numbers soared to an unacceptable level as the plane became airborne and through the remainder of the flight.

A whistleblower investigation initiated on Aug. 2, 2022, by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found American Airlines Inc. retaliated against employees who filed complaints about the illnesses with the company and Federal Aviation Administration. Flight attendants alleged that the airline docked attendance points and discouraged them from reporting work-related injuries and illnesses.

OSHA proposed $6,837 in penalties following its investigation.

"Federal law protects workers' rights to voice workplace safety and health concerns without fearing retaliation," said OSHA Area Director Timothy Minor in Fort Worth, Texas. "When employers punish employees for doing so, they create a chilling effect that may stop workers from reporting future issues, putting their health and well-being, and that of co-workers, at risk.

"Our investigation found that the flight attendants engaged in protected activities when they reported illnesses related to jet fuel fumes seeping into the aircraft cabin," Minor added. "Workers must feel empowered to inform managers and others about potential hazards that jeopardize workers' safety and health."

Based in Fort Worth, American operates an extensive international and domestic network with almost 6,800 flights to nearly 350 destinations in more than 50 countries. The company employs about 109,016 employees, including approximately 24,000 flight attendants.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the provisions of more than 20 statutes that protect employees from retaliation for reporting violations of various workplace safety and health laws.

Claimants' attorney Jon L. Gelman is the author of "New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Law" and co-author of the national treatise "Modern Workers’ Compensation Law." He is based in Wayne, New Jersey. This blog post is republished with permission.

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