The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced that American Airlines retaliated against flight attendants who reported fume-related illnesses.

According to OSHA, the airline punished flight attendants who raised concerns about the fume events by removing them from flying duties, reassigning them to less desirable routes, and subjecting them to increased scrutiny. The agency also found that the airline failed to adequately inform its employees about the health risks associated with fume events and did not provide them with proper protective equipment.

Fume events occur when engine oils or other chemicals leak into the cabin air supply, causing a noxious smell and potentially leading to serious health issues for passengers and crew members. The symptoms of fume-related illness can include dizziness, nausea, headaches, and difficulty breathing, and long-term exposure can lead to more serious health problems such as nerve damage and cancer.

OSHA’s investigation into American Airlines began on the 2nd of August 2022, after a group of flight attendants filed a complaint alleging that the airline had failed to address their concerns about fume events and had punished them for raising the issue. The agency conducted a thorough investigation, interviewing over 50 employees and reviewing thousands of documents.

In a statement, OSHA said that it had found “substantial evidence” of retaliation against the flight attendants who reported the fume-related illness and that the airline had violated the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

“No employee should be punished for raising concerns about potential health and safety hazards,” said Loren Sweatt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.

“OSHA will not tolerate retaliation against employees who speak up about safety concerns and will take strong enforcement action to protect the rights of workers.”

American Airlines Reject Osha’s Findings

American Airlines has disputed the findings of OSHA’s investigation and has stated that it will appeal the agency’s ruling. In a statement, the airline said that it “strongly disagrees” with the findings and that it is committed to the safety and well-being of its employees.

“We take the health and safety of our employees and customers very seriously and have robust programs in place to ensure their well-being,” the statement said. “We will continue to work with our employees and all relevant authorities to ensure a safe and healthy work environment.”

The case will now be heard by an administrative law judge, who will determine the appropriate penalties for the violations. OSHA has the authority to impose fines and order the airline to take corrective action to address the issues raised in the complaint.

American Airlines B767 N391AA
American Airlines B767 N391AA

A History of Offense?

This is not the first time that American Airlines has faced allegations of retaliation against employees who have raised concerns about safety issues. In 2018, the airline was hit with a $1.5 million fine by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for retaliating against pilots who raised safety concerns.

The issue of fume events on airplanes has been a source of concern for both passengers and crew members in recent years, with several major airlines facing lawsuits over the issue. In 2019, a British court awarded millions of pounds in damages to a group of pilots who had suffered from fume-related illness, finding that the airline had failed to protect their health and safety.

American Airlines B787-9 Dreamliner
An American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner departing LAX on 29 March 2018. | © Wikimedia Commons

A Victory for Flight Attendants?

The OSHA ruling against American Airlines is a victory for flight attendants and other airline employees who have long advocated for greater protection against fume events and other safety hazards.

It is also a reminder that employees have the right to raise concerns about safety issues without fear of retribution, and that employers have a legal obligation to address those concerns in a timely and appropriate manner.

What do you think of OSHA’s findings? Let us know in the comments below.

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