Investigating Health and Safety Oversight at Wizz Air

Investigating Health and Safety Oversight at Wizz Air

FPU Romania has requested the European Commission to launch an immediate investigation into the lack of accountability that prevents state authorities from exerting authority over airlines and multinational companies such as Wizz Air. This situation raises serious questions regarding intra-European jurisdiction.

During the past year, there was a series of fume events at low-cost carrier Wizz Air, caused by the apparent seepage of engine oil into the air conditioning system of the Airbus A320/A321 aircraft, according to Pro TV, Romania’s largest news station. For the first time, crew members have had the courage to speak out and draw attention to a phenomenon that has the potential to endanger the health and safety of employees and passengers. The investigative team has documented several situations resulting in delayed flights or cancellations, exposing the risks associated with toxic fumes onboard flights.

In certain instances, these work-related incidents have led to flight diversions, pilots resorting to emergency oxygen masks, and, alarmingly, crew members requiring medical assistance upon arrival due to incapacitation. As outlined in International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Circular 344-AN/202, the term “fume(s)” refers to odorous, gaseous compounds that are not visible. After undergoing medical assessments at the National Aviation and Space Medicine Institute (INMAS) in Bucharest, some crew members were deemed unfit for duty, leading to absences ranging from 3 to 7 days.

Surprisingly, both national civil aviation and labor inspection authorities, along with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), responsible for overseeing aviation safety, have all claimed a lack of competence in investigating occupational accidents and incidents, leaving employees without protection and exposing a serious loophole in EU legislation.

“In our view, there is simply no room for compromise when it comes to safety, and authorities must take responsibility for maintaining these safety standards. We strongly advise against any attempt to downplay or conceal incidents; such actions will not go unnoticed,” says Mircea Constantin, Secretary General of FPU Romania, underscoring the need for transparency and accountability in aviation safety reporting.

Our concern focuses on the current confusion and lack of oversight within the EU regarding occupational incidents and the health and safety of both workers and passengers in cross-border situations, especially in aviation. We aim to establish jurisdiction and competence in cases of work-related incidents or accidents, differentiating between those occurring onboard and outside the aircraft, considering factors like the nationality of the airline, employees, and contract regulations.

The aviation industry provides two-thirds of the funding for the Dutch investigative TV program Zembla, which recently aired an episode questioning EASA’s independence. The agency oversees national aviation authorities as well as the Hungarian low-cost airline Wizz Air.

Watch Pilots: ‘European flights are becoming less safe’. Zembla investigation

Since we did not receive responses to those questions from EASA, we are now seeking clarification from the EU Commission on the following issues:

I. Which member state and governing body is responsible for ensuring health and safety compliance in the event of occupation hazards occurring onboard versus outside Wizz Air-registered aircraft? (ex. an occupational hazard in the air or on the ground, involving employees on Romanian labor contracts, onboard Wizz Air aircraft registered in other states). When, on what grounds, and under what circumstances do Member States carry out inspections for occupational hazards, whether in the air or on the ground, particularly when involving flight crew on atypical contracts (contractors) aboard Wizz Air-registered aircraft?

II. Do the Romanian CAA and Romanian Labor Inspectorate have the power to investigate and administer corrective actions or fines for breaches of Romanian employee health and safety regulations to foreign carriers, such as Wizz Air Hungary or Wizz Air Malta, which have AOCs issued by EASA? When, on what grounds, and under what circumstances does the Commission use its power to request Member States to carry out inspections?

Employers, including Wizz Air in Romania, must have a legal obligation to promptly report work-related incidents or accidents to the labor inspectorate. Failure to implement necessary legal occupational safety and health measures when there’s an imminent risk of occupational accidents or diseases or failure to comply with established safety and health obligations is an extremely serious offense.

It appears that Wizz Air did not report any work-related incidents or accidents involving toxic fumes in the communications sent to them, according to a response FPU Romania received from the Labor Inspectorate.

“We want to let all crew members know that if you experience any work-related incidents, you can reach out to us. Our team is here to support you in bringing your case to your employer, ensuring proper reporting to authorities, and seeking compensation for those affected,” shares Mircea Constantin.

  • The European Union and its Member States share competence in transport and public health, which means that Member States rule in areas where the EU does not have control.
  • Various bodies, including EASA, national civil aviation authorities, national labor authorities, and health and safety bodies, oversee health and safety compliance in EU aviation under EU regulations and national laws.
  • Regulation (EU) 2018/1139 governs aviation safety and human health protection against aircraft noise and emissions in partnership with the Commission, EASA, and Member States.
  • EASA is responsible for issuing Wizz Air’s air operator certificate, with Member States free to inspect Wizz Air aircraft and crew as part of the EU Safety Assessment of Community Aircraft ramp inspection program.
  • Regulation (EU) No. 376/2014 complements Regulation (EU) 2018/1139, focusing on safety occurrence reporting and analysis, such as occurrences related to contaminated air.
  • The OSH Framework Directive 89/391/EEC applies to workers in all sectors, including aviation, ensuring the safety and health of workers at the workplace and requiring employers to identify and evaluate risks and provide appropriate protection.
  • Enforcement of national provisions transposing EU directives is primarily the responsibility of competent national authorities, with the European Commission only intervening in cases of breaches of EU law by Member State authorities.

Read also Romania voted in favor of a European project to improve flight safety

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