With adequate preparation, an OSHA visit can be a valuable experience that can create a safer work environment.
May 27, 2019
The prospect of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection may make business aircraft operators apprehensive due to uncertainty over company responsibilities and agency regulations. However, with adequate preparation, an OSHA visit can be a valuable experience that can create a safer work environment.
One common misperception is that OSHA frequently conducts surprise inspections.
“There’s almost always a call first, and OSHA typically won’t arrive on site at all if you’re forthright about the issue and can demonstrate due diligence in working to resolve it,” said Kent Stauffer, vice president of quality, safety and technical programs at Constant Aviation. “There’s usually a process for mitigation in all but the most egregious situations.”
Maintenance and charter operators often sublet space from an FBO, which may lead to questions over who’s accountable for employee safety.
“The direct employer has that responsibility, regardless of the venue,” said Fred Calvert, director of safety assurance for Executive Jet Management. “Technicians can be employed by the FBO, but perform work for a maintenance operator; the FBO holds OSHA responsibilities for them.”
Sometimes there is confusion over whether a specific situation falls under OSHA or FAA jurisdiction. While the FAA once held safety authority over all on-aircraft employees, a 2014 agreement expanded OSHA’s safety oversight in the areas of hazard communications, blood-borne pathogens and hearing conservation for cabin crews during all phases of aircraft operations.
Calvert noted that cabin crews face a number of challenges in their responsibility for passenger care, both during normal operations and especially in medical emergencies.
“Pilots wear headsets – most of them noise-canceling – and have their hearing checked when renewing their medical certifications,” noted Calvert. “[But] cabin crews endure the same noise levels on every flight with no routine medical-check requirements.”
Aircraft operators may want to consider participating in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), which is available to any company demonstrating an effective safety and health management program, including injury and illness rates below national averages for their industry.
“VPP is similar to use of a safety management system in Part 135 operations,” Calvert said. “It’s not mandatory, but it demonstrates your flight department’s willingness to go beyond the basic OSHA requirements and make a real commitment to a safer workplace.”
Resources are also available through NBAA, consultants and OSHA itself, outlining common focus areas for OSHA inspectors. Operators should have at least one employee designated as its OSHA compliance officer, who ensures that safety-related aspects are properly addressed in company operating manuals and readily available to inspectors.
Although companies may face penalties or fines for failing to meet OSHA standards, Stauffer emphasized, “OSHA is not the enemy. The agency’s job is to protect the health and safety of American workers, not to be vindictive. If they see something wrong, in my experience, both sides will learn a lot if you’re upfront about it – and, your organization will be better for it.”