In a draft agreement, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration have agreed to expand the workplace protections for flight attendants. Under current law, the FAA has jurisdiction to enforce workplace health and safety protections for flight attendants, but airline unions have been fighting to change that since 1975.

The flight attendants argue that protections are needed against work-related injuries such as hearing loss from cabin noise, air quality concerns, radiation exposure, and the potential for exposure to blood-borne disease. At least some of those issues would be covered by OSHA authority if the draft agreement is approved.

The proposal is in response to a law passed earlier this year by Congress, which required the FAA to determine how OSHA’s workplace safety requirements could be applied to members of flight crews.

The airlines’ main objection appears to be the potential for logistical and regulatory confusion if regulatory powers are given to OSHA instead of the FAA. Although spokespeople for the airlines interviewed by Bloomberg all agreed that workplace safety was a top priority, a spokesperson for the trade group Airlines of America said in an email that the industry needs to consider the proposal’s costs before agreeing to it.

According to the proposal, the FAA’s rules do not include the same protections against excessive noise levels inside the cabin, exposure to blood borne pathogens or certain other workplace risks. Work-related hearing loss is a priority issue for in-air flight crews, but the FAA regulates it only for ground crews. As a result, OSHA proposes to regulate those issues for flight attendants, pilots and onboard crews.

The working group still seeks to consider what other workplace hazards should be regulated by OSHA.

Airlines, airline unions and other interested parties have until just before the end of December to comment on the proposal.

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