Qantas has been issued with a breach notice from Safe Work NSW, a government agency that regulates safe work practices. The airline has been accused of not cleaning its aircraft properly and therefore putting passengers, crew, and ground staff at risk. The assessment comes as the coronavirus outbreak heightens awareness of infections and best practices to minimise them.
Blood, vomit, and dirty nappies
The Safe Work investigation notes that caused the breach notice to be issued stated;
“… workers and other persons may be exposed to a risk of injury or illness from the inadequate system of work used to clean planes that may have transported passengers with an infectious disease”.
Amongst other issues, investigators witnessed aircraft cleaners wiping multiple tray tables with the same dirty cloths. Cleaners were also seen cleaning up unidentified liquids on floors and other surfaces. In addition, cleaners were observed handling wet and used tissues, cleaning up blood, vomit, and occasionally picking up used nappies. Appropriate personal protective equipment was not used for the majority of tasks.
As a result, Qantas has been issued with a breach notice. The airline has until 16 March 2020 to appeal or otherwise improve its work practices.
Qantas suspended a cleaner last month
This issue has been brewing for a little while. Last month, Qantas suspended a worker who refused to clean an aircraft that had just come in from China. In a letter, Qantas told that worker;
“You cannot reasonably be concerned that working on aircraft originating from China would expose you to a serious risk to your health or safety or that there is a risk of immediate or imminent exposure to coronavirus.”
This worker was a Transport Workers Union delegate and reportedly told fellow workers that they did not have to clean the aircraft if they had reasonable health and safety concerns.
A TWU spokesperson has told Simple Flying that the worker merely suggested some practices might be unsafe and made some suggestions. According to the TWU, Qantas accused the worker of causing “panic” and suspended him.
While the TWU has been in continual liaison with Safe Work NSW regarding what it sees as unsafe work practices, the inspection and investigation were not directly related to the suspension of this worker. Rather, Safe Work NSW has the authority to conduct snap inspections. It seems that is what they did.
A bad look for Qantas who have swung into damage control
“We would never ask our employees to work in unsafe conditions.
“The TWU knows full well that the risk of aviation workers contracting coronavirus as a result of working on an aircraft originating from China is very low. I briefed them on the situation last week.
“Our medical team is in regular contact with health authorities and is receiving the latest advice from Australia’s Chief Medical Officer and the World Health Organisation.
“Additional protective measures are being put in place on flights from China to further reduce the risk of our employees contracting coronavirus and we are providing them with regular updates on the latest health advice.”
Qantas has a turbulent relationship with unions. There is an element of “he said, she said” to this but the negative publicity should see a few immediate outcomes, including better PPE for the folks who have to clean planes and far cleaner planes.
Which, in the current environment, is a win for everybody.