Occupational Health News Roundup

Flight crews from the UK and Australia are warning that engine-oil fumes can contaminate cabin air in certain types of planes. The BBC reports that after two incidents this year in which flight crews experienced problems with fumes, some flight crew members from the Exeter-based Flybe airline are refusing to work on the company’s British Aerospace 146 fleet (which is generally used on domestic flights). Employees also reported two incidents on Qantas flights (on a 747 and 767); Matthew Benns from the Sydney Morning Herald explains:

The problem stems from a cost-cutting design in jet aircraft that bleeds warm air off the engines and pumps it straight into the cabin without any filtration. If the engine has an oil leak the warm air that enters the cabin is laced with a chemical called tricresyl phosphate, as well as carcinogens and organophosphates that attack the nervous system and can result in brain damage.

Air crew are now so concerned about the issue that they have covertly taken swabs from the walls inside commercial airliners on three continents including Australia and in 85 per cent of cases found positive traces of the chemicals.

Crew members are concerned about the cumulative long-term effects, but Australian Federation of Air Pilots spokesman Lawrie Cox says the short-term effects might be worse if pilots’ functioning is affected.

In other news:

Risk & Insurance: An estimated 8,000 immigrant day laborers worked in Lower Manhattan cleanup efforts in the days following 9/11; now many of them are having a hard time getting compensation for health problems.

MedPage Today: Researchers report that exposure to hazardous fumes and aerosolized heavy metals may put welders at risk of losing their sense of smell, which is important for detecting fire and dangerous fumes.

Associated Press: A Senate hearing focused attention on slow processing and other issues with a government program that compensates nuclear weapons plants workers who developed cancer or other diseases following exposure to radiation or toxic chemicals.

Occupational Hazards: New research assesses the toll of employee stress and sleep deprivation in the workplace by focusing on “presenteeism” – the decline in performance caused by employees being present but impaired.

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Healthcare facilities use humor and prizes to encourage all their workers to get flu shots.

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