Aviation Industry Whistleblower Stakeholder Meeting
Updated On: Oct 15, 2019
On October 8, 2019, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) held a public meeting to solicit comments and suggestions from stakeholders on issues facing the agency in the administration of the whistleblower protection provisions under the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21). OSHA is interested in obtaining information from the public on key issues facing the agency’s whistleblower program. AMFA National Safety and Standards Director Scott King was in attendance and had the opportunity to provide the following feedback to questions posed by OSHA:
1.How can OSHA deliver better whistleblower customer service?
Streamline the website application program. There are numerous different screens to navigate when filing an AIR21 report utilizing the online process. Additionally, create a URL, like www.air21.gov , that will take the user directly to the AIR21 report website page.
Encourage regional OSHA offices to contact their respective labor organizations to give presentations on AIR21 procedures. This has been done at AMFA and has proved to clarify many answers to our membership.
Provide a means of representation to those who cannot afford it. There are many aircraft mechanics that do not make a wage sufficient enough to fund their own lengthy battle with a big company. A possible solution would be to provide legal counsel to those who have shown that their case has merit during the preliminary phase of the investigation.
Conduct investigations with greater urgency. In one recent case, the affected mechanic was off the job for more than 10 months. The case ultimately concluded with the mechanic regaining his employment, but the duration of the investigation was a great strain on the mechanic and his family.
2.What kind of assistance can OSHA provide to help explain the whistleblower laws it enforces?
Require airlines to notify and educate new employees of the AIR21 statue and how to contact OSHA with concerns. This educational process should include an informational pamphlet to be received and signed for upon employment.
Require airlines to provide initial and recurrent training about AIR21 laws for employees. Most airlines have annual recurrent training requirements that each mechanic must complete for continued employment, this could be accomplished with computer-based training programs that are in wide use today.
3.Are there any safety issues in the airline industry that you think the agency needs to be aware of?
Over the last several years, there has been a reoccurring theme of airlines that publicly promote safety, but truly put the schedule before all other concerns. This fact has been shown in past AIR21 cases. The airline industry has grown at such a rapid pace that the demands of the business have put many strains on the safety systems that are in place. Profits and shareholder dividends are over-shadowing the safety priorities.
All airlines are required to have an FAA approved Safety Management System – SMS – one of the elements of SMS is identify changes in the operational environment that may introduce new hazards. There has been a change in the operational environment of several airlines by the suggestive nature and outright pressuring of hard working men and women by management to take shortcuts or not document discrepancies. One of the terms used by management is “out of scope.” This usually refers to a discrepancy that was discovered while performing an un-related maintenance action. For example, a mechanic is called to an airplane to examine a faulty landing light on the wing, and while changing the light assembly, the mechanic discovers a crack in the adjacent wing skin. Mechanics should not be forced to neglect a flaw that could be a potential safety issue because it is out of scope.
FAR 121.701(a) states “Each person who takes action in the case of a reported or observed failure or malfunction of an airframe, engine, propeller, or appliance that is critical to the safety of flight shall make, or have made, a record of that action in the airplane's maintenance log.” There is nothing in that regulation that references anything about a mechanic being in or out of scope. Additionally, there was a recent injunction imposed by a federal judge challenging that FAR, thereby putting safety a risk.