By James L. Curtis, Meagan Newman, and Craig B. Simonsen

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), together with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), recently proposed a new policy for addressing flight attendant workplace safety. While FAA aviation safety regulations ordinarily take precedence, the FAA is proposing that OSHA enforce certain occupational safety and health standards not currently covered by FAA oversight.

Announcing the proposed policy, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stated that “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.” Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis noted that “the policy announced today 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.”

Issues and conditions that would be covered include bloodborne pathogens, noise, and hazard communication.  OSHA will also have jurisdiction to investigate a broad range of complaints, including those that may fall under OSHA’s general duty clause such as ergonomics and indoor air quality or “sick airplane syndrome.” Acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said of this policy that “[it] is an important step toward establishing procedures for resolving flight attendant workplace health and safety concerns.”

The FAA and OSHA partnership had been conceived through the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, where Congress required the FAA to develop a policy statement to outline the circumstances in which OSHA requirements could apply to crewmembers while they were working on aircraft. It is not clear exactly when this new policy will become effective, but it is another example of OSHA’s ever expanding reach. The Agencies sent the policy for publication in the Federal Register on November 30, 2012. Once published it will be open for public comment for thirty days.