By Rich Bockmann
Federal regulators cited a cleaning contractor at Kennedy Airport in March for more than a dozen workplace safety violations, including several related to potential exposures to Hepatitis B and C and HIV.
Responding to complaints filed by employees of Airway Cleaners in October, the U.S. Occupational Safety Hazard Administration cited the Rockville Centre, L.I.-based company with 14 violations of the work code and originally levied $19,000 in penalties, according to a notice sent to the company March 4.
Airway and OSHA reached a settlement agreement later in the month, by which time 12 of the 14 violations had either been corrected or withdrawn and the fines had been reduced to $14,400, according to OSHA.
“By entering into this agreement, the employer does not admit that it violated the cited standards for any litigation or purpose other than a subsequent proceeding under the Occupational Safety and Health Act,” the letter read.
Airway did not immediately respond to a request for comment. According to a press release on its website, the company entered into a contract in April 2013 with American Airlines, Terminal 8 and John F. Kennedy International Airport to clean the terminal, an American equipment building and Hangar 10.
Airway’s employees, who are part of the larger movement of airport workers organizing with the SEIU 32BJ union for higher wages, are assigned to cleaning areas such as aircraft lavatories and terminal restrooms. Employers are required to establish certain protocols and policies to ensure workers’ health and safety.
The majority of the 14 citations from OSHA’s safety inspection of Terminal 8 between November and March had to do with failure to provide protections to employees who use harsh cleaning chemicals or may come in contact with blood-borne pathogens such as Hepatitis B and C and HIV.
Airway Cleaners allegedly did not develop a written job description for positions requiring protective equipment and did not have an exposure-control plan in place for workers coming into contact with potentially infectious materials.
The company allegedly failed to establish medical records of employees exposed to pathogens while cleaning cabins and lavatories and terminal rest rooms, or ensure those who were exposed had access to Hepatitis B vaccinations.
One violation was for failing to properly dispose of needles.
“Contaminated sharps (i.e. diabetic syringes and needle sticks) found during the cleaning of aircraft cabins and terminal rest rooms by cleaning staff were improperly placed inside of non-puncture resistant garbage bags for disposal, exposing employees to stick injuries,” the report read.
One Airway employee, who asked to not be identified, said conditions improved while the inspectors were around, but since they left things have returned to the status quo.
“When OSHA was here they were pretty nervous,” the airplane cabin cleaner said. “Now they feel the coast is clear and they can go right back to normal.”
OSHA said it can conduct surprise follow-up inspections.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.