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updated: 11/30/2012 4:59 PM

OSHA may take over some FAA oversight

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Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON -- Federal aviation and labor agencies Friday proposed expanding workplace protections to flight attendants, something airline unions have sought for 37 years.

Attendants have said health issues associated with air quality, noise and radiation exposure haven't been adequately addressed. In 1975, the Federal Aviation Administration claimed jurisdiction over such matters, the agencies said in a draft agreement.

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The proposal would give the Occupational Safety and Health Administration authority over at least some of those issues, according to an emailed release. FAA regulations would continue to take precedence in matters of flight safety, the agency said in the release.

"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," Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in a release.

The Association of Flight Attendants and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants praised the move in statements.

"AFA looks forward to continuing work with the FAA and OSHA as we finally bring vital safety and health protections to our nation's flight attendants," Veda Shook, president of the union, said in a release. The AFA, with almost 60,000 members, is the largest flight-attendant union.

"Though long overdue, I believe OSHA protection is a huge step forward for the flight-attendant profession," APFA President Laura Glading said in an email. The APFA represents almost 18,000 employees at AMR Corp.'s American Airlines.

Airlines believe expanding safety oversight to multiple agencies is unnecessary and creates the potential for regulatory and logistical confusion, Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based trade group Airlines for America, said in an email. The group represents carriers including Southwest Airlines and United Continental.

"Workplace safety remains a top priority for U.S. carriers, and the current FAA health and safety programs in place are effectively ensuring the industry's high standards are met," Day said.

The industry needs to analyze the proposal before estimating its costs, she said.

A draft proposal issued by the agencies said issues unregulated by FAA, such as cabin noise levels and the threat of blood-borne disease, could be overseen by OSHA.

Existing FAA regulations cover sanitation aboard aircraft, so OSHA wouldn't enforce its rules in that area, according to the proposal.

The draft didn't mention regulation of air quality within the cabin, an issue that's been a concern for flight attendants. The FAA's rules govern air flow and pressurization within an aircraft.

Airlines, unions and others have 30 days to comment on the proposal.

A law passed earlier this year by Congress required the FAA to outline how to apply OSHA requirements to flight-crew members.

"Safety is our highest priority and that certainly extends to those who work in the transportation industry," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a release.

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