**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
Contacts: Thea Levkovitz, Thea@workingwa.org
State fines Alaska Airlines contractor for failing to protect workers from exposure to blood borne pathogens, body fluids
Serious health and safety violations for Alaska’s passenger services contractor at Sea-Tac Airport
SeaTac Airport - April 18, 2013 - The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has fined Alaska Airlines-contractor Bags, Inc. for failing to protect workers from exposure to blood borne pathogens and body fluids including vomit, urine, feces and blood. In issuing more than $12,000 in fines, L&I cited the Alaska contractor for four serious violations of state health and safety laws, and two general violations. Under state law, “serious violations” are issued when “there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result” if the problem is not fixed.
The L&I investigation was prompted last fall when more than 50 Sea-Tac Airport workers, including 17 wheelchair assistants at Bags, Inc., filed health and safety complaints. The wheel chair agents employed by Bags, Inc. provide services to the disabled, ill and elderly passengers of Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines.
L&I investigators found that the contractor:
● Failed to develop an exposure plan for “wheel chair agents and supervisors who may be occupationally exposed to blood borne pathogens or other potentially infectious materials.”
● Failed to have a safety plan for workers “handling passengers and wheel chairs that have been or may be contaminated with body fluids such as vomit, urine and feces.”
● Failed to make hepatitis B vaccinations available to employees “who may occasionally come into contact with bleeding passengers or surfaces contaminated with blood” or other body fluids.
● Failed to provide training so workers can protect themselves from HIV and other infections.
● Failed to provide employees information about how to use personal protective equipment to handle body fluids, and how and where to dispose of contaminated equipment and materials.
When: Thursday, April 18 - 10:30 AM
Where: Airport Arrivals Hall - south end of baggage claim (lower) level
Who: Bags, Inc. workers, faith and community leaders
Click L&I Citation and Notice of Assessment to see the full L&I citation notice.
In filing the complaint last fall with L&I, workers noted that the conditions were unsafe for passengers as well. “I have had passengers urinate and defecate in the wheelchair I use to transport them,” wrote one Bags, Inc. worker. “When this happened I had to go to the nearest restroom and improvise a solution with napkins and bathroom soap. We don’t have any equipment issued to us by Bags, Inc. to protect us and our clients in this kind of situation. After these incidents, I have had to continue to use the same chair that had been soiled to pick up more passengers. We don’t have anything to do a deep clean of the chairs beyond hand soap, and so have to just go for the next person.”
“I'm glad that my coworkers and I have been vindicated,” said Habiba Ali, who has worked at Bags, Inc. for one year. “We're proud to serve Alaska and other customers but have been concerned about the unsafe conditions for a long time. Now, we hope that Alaska and BAGS take our issues seriously so that we can have a safe workplace and our customers can have clean wheelchairs when they come to our airport.”
L&I investigation continues into Alaska Airlines, 3 other contractors at Sea-Tac
Meanwhile, L&I continues to investigate worker complaints of health and safety violations at Alaska Airlines’ cabin cleaning contractor, Delta Global Staffing, and its fueling contractor, ASIG. L&I also has opened an investigation into potential health and safety violations at Alaska Airlines. Additionally, worker complaints have led to an investigation at a 5th Sea-Tac company, AirServ, a contractor for several airlines.
Media availability to speak with workers, community supporters for a healthy airport and good jobs
Bags, Inc. workers and faith and community supporters will be available to speak to media directly on Thursday morning, April 18. Workers, their union representatives and faith and community supporters will gather at the airport’s Arrivals Hall and will engage in free-speech activities to alert other airport employees and concerned citizens about the health and safety problems, along with the problems of poverty wages at airline contractors.
Following are actual complaints submitted to Washington State Department of Labor and Industries on December 10, 2012 by workers who help elderly and disabled passengers move through the airport employed by Alaska Airline contractor Bags, Inc. They charged serious health and safety violations, including:
Unsafe procedures for handling bodily fluids
“A year ago a woman urinated and defecated in my chair. Since I had no gloves and cleaning supplies I again could only respond with paper towels and hand soap. Not only is there no equipment provided, but there is no procedure from management on what to do in that kind of situation. There is no training, advice, or direction for dealing with a soiled chair. After these incidents, I had to continue to use the same chair that had been soiled to clean pick up more passengers. We don’t have anything to do a deep clean of the chairs with beyond hand soap, and so have to just go for the next person. “
“On an International flight I had a bleeding passenger. I was to pick up the passenger and wait with her until she cleared customs. It was an elderly woman and I asked when she got in my chair if she needs to use the restroom. When she got up from my chair I noticed her bottom was soaked in blood. I had no gloves but I took napkins and placed them on the chair. There was so much blood that it soaked into the chair and was dripping onto the floor. I didn’t know what to do. When she left I took the chair to storage to change it. The chairs are issued to you and whatever happens to the chair is your responsibility. Nobody cleans the chairs.”
Insufficient training on passenger safety
“I have been at the airport for 12 years. During that time I have encountered a few medical emergencies with my passengers. Because I hadn’t been trained on how to manage this circumstance or deal with the disabled, I am left to guess for myself.”
" I have not been provided training by BAGS on how to lift heavy bags or how to transport a passenger in or out of the chair."
Lack of personal protective equipment
“I don’t have gloves. If there is a spill or an incident with a customer, then I don’t have any materials provided to help me respond to it.”
“I have no gloves, masks, or any other safety tool to deal with an incident involving bodily fluids.”
For additional information: www.itsOURairport.org
Working Washington, a Washington based non-profit coalition of individuals, neighborhood associations, immigrant groups, civil rights organizations, people of faith, and labor united for good jobs and a fair economy.