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Rights Related to Health and Safety Issues

The FAA has just advised you that it wants to remodel the break room because water leaks ruined the carpet and wallboard. Do you have the right to ask questions? Do you have the right to question their plans and the safety precautions they are going to take? The short answer is yes.

Employee rights in this situation come from several different areas of the law. Depending on what internal environmental health and safety issues are impacted, employees will be protected under Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Workers Compensation Act as well as the Mid-Term Bargaining Article of the various NATCA agreements.

When the FAA proposes to remodel, construct, repair, or alter the internal physical building, various environmental conditions can change to the detriment of employees. Indoor Air Quality is becoming of greater concern to OSHA, which regulates various components including the air people breathe in buildings. Oxygen, Carbon Dioxide, dust levels and fresh air/ventilation are all regulated by OSHA. Even chemical sprays are regulated. OSHA mandates that certain safety precautions be taken depending on the chemical compounds in the spray. Other items such as mold, are not regulated by OSHA, but are recognized as having adverse health effects on people after exposure.

NATCA’s level of rights is often affected by whether the hazard is regulated or unregulated. If the matter is regulated, like asbestos or lead in drinking water, then NATCA can make a complaint to OSHA. If the hazard is unregulated, then NATCA needs to inform the FAA of the potential hazard and, if the Agency fails to address the issue, the Union may file a grievance under Article 53, Section 2 (of most of the agreements). The grievance would allege that the Agency has failed to make every reasonable effort to provide and maintain a healthy and safe working environment.

Regardless of the issue being regulated or unregulated, NATCA can negotiate with the FAA over impact and implementation issues (procedures and appropriate arrangements) to mitigate employees’ exposure to possible toxins while the environmental project is occurring. If employees become sick during the project or are exposed to a possible containment, they most likely will file CA-2s, occupational illness or disease forms. This is different from a CA-1, which is for a sudden injury like a slip and fall. A CA-1 would be filed if the injury from the exposure is immediate. Employees have three years from the date of injury or death to file a claim unless they informed their immediate supervisor of the injury within 30 days of illnesses occurrence. See 5 USC 8101.

In addition, NATCA has developed an inter-departmental task force to assist members with their OSHA and environmental health issues. NATCA’s new committee is the Workers’ Individual Safety and Health (WISH) Committee. The committee is comprised of employees from the various NATCA departments: communications, labor relations, safety and technology, government affairs, office of the general counsel and members of the NATCA OSHA Committee. The purpose of the committee is to develop procedures for adequately identifying and responding to issues affecting NATCA members’ safety and health in their respective workplaces.