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Flight attendants to benefit from OSHA oversight?

For the past 37 years, airline unions have sought the expansion of workplace safety protections for flight attendants. Late last month, U.S. labor and aviation agencies finally proposed doing just that. In essence, the most common workplace injuries and illnesses affecting flight attendants have been grossly under-addressed for decades. For the first time since 1975, flight attendants might finally be getting needed relief.

In particular, flight attendants are plagued by noise, poor air quality and radiation exposure in ways that other workers have been protected against. For nearly 40 years, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has retained jurisdiction over working conditions for flight attendants. The new proposal would shift some of this oversight to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

FAA regulations concerning flight safety will be prioritized over any forthcoming OSHA regulations. However, potential OSHA oversight regarding noise, blood-borne disease, air quality, radiation exposure and other common workplace hazards for flight attendants will likely improve their situation dramatically.

Airlines, unions and other interested parties will be given 30 days to comment on the new proposal. Airlines have already expressed concern that oversight extension to another agency may create logistical and regulatory confusion. Some have even insisted that such expanded oversight is unnecessary, given the fact that airlines aim to prioritize the health and safety of their workers.

Airlines undoubtedly prioritize safety. However, common workplace safety issues uniquely affecting flight attendants are consistently overlooked. As a result, a partnership between the FAA and OSHA will hopefully yield more concrete results.

Source: Bloomberg, "OSHA to Get Oversight of Flight-Attendant Work Conditions," Alan Levin, Nov. 30, 2012

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