Chicago Workers’ Compensation Lawyers & Illinois Injury Lawyers

Defective seat belt air bag on airplane causes death of worker

| Jul 29, 2015 | Firm News |

Working in and around airplanes can be a dangerous occupation. Some of the most common hazards include head injuries, crushing injuries, serious musculoskeletal damage and exposure to infectious diseases. In a recent case, an American worker was killed when an air bag inflated unexpectedly during the construction of a Boeing 777 airliner.

This tragic accident was only one of hundreds that occur among aviation professionals every year. Many Chicago employees in the air transport industry must face the consequences of serious disability, often requiring the help of a personal injury attorney to rebuild their lives.

Air bags are designed to help, not to harm

Most airline seats, including almost all seats in coach class, offer stability and security to passengers with old-fashioned seat belts. If the plane hits severe turbulence or crashes into the ground, the belt is designed to hold the passenger in place and minimize injury. In some situations, a traditional seat belt is not enough. When a seat faces a solid bulkhead wall or reclines fully, the passenger needs an additional air bag to absorb the impact. These air bags are standard equipment in 777 business class seats.

Fatal air bag accident in a Boeing factory

In November 2014, a worker in a Boeing factory was asked, along with a colleague, to repair a defective air bag in a business class seat on a partially assembled 777. The two employees had never handled this sort of air bag system before. They were given no training, no assistance and no specialized guidance in fixing the machinery. During an attempt to fix the air bag, it discharged and struck the worker, who was bending down to examine the seat. The air bag mechanism shattered his skull and removed part of his face.

The employee was deprived of oxygen for several minutes until an emergency tracheotomy could be performed. He died several weeks later after a series of unsuccessful attempts to repair his head injuries and restore his brain function. His colleague is still under treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing the accident.

Members of the worker’s family are suing the manufacturer of the air bag system for provision of defective machinery. They are also suing Boeing Co. for neglect of basic safety standards in airliner manufacturing. The aviation giant has made no comment about the lawsuit.

Air travel employees often face unsafe working conditions

Not all of the deadly hazards in the air travel industry are caused by defective equipment or even insufficient training. Some dangers are directly traceable to unsafe working conditions. In one recent case, a group of employees at New York’s LaGuardia Airport chose to walk out of their jobs after they were ordered to clean up spilled bodily fluids in planes that had traveled through countries suffering from the Ebola epidemic.

The workers at LaGuardia were given no suits to protect them from hazardous pathogens such as Ebola. They were also given no respiratory protection. Their only safety gear was a pair of flimsy latex gloves that did not last an entire shift without tearing. The whistleblower who exposed these conditions and called for the walkout was fired by the airline. After intervention by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, he was reinstated. He and his colleagues were provided with appropriate safety equipment to use while cleaning planes in potential biohazard situations.

Workers have the right to speak up in dangerous circumstances

Current regulations are meant to help workers speak up about unsafe conditions on the job. According to the Whistleblower Protection Program administered by OSHA, 22 separate federal laws and statutes are in place to protect employees who raise the alarm about problems on a work site. Employers may not retaliate in any way against whistleblowers.

Whistleblower protection in America extends to the full range of work environments, from transportation and manufacturing to food service and waste disposal. The Wendell H. Ford Aviation Reform Act makes special provisions for people who work in the aviation industry. This Act recognizes the unique hazards faced by aviation employees and protects them accordingly.

What should a worker do after discovering unsafe conditions?

Sometimes the safest option is to leave the workplace until the situation is resolved. Workers have the right to walk out of a dangerous job if the following circumstances apply:

  • Continuing on the job is a clear, severe and unavoidable danger to safety or health.
  • The employer is unwilling or unable to take steps to correct the hazardous situation.
  • An official complaint to OSHA or another regulating body would cause unnecessary delay.
  • The task cannot be dismissed or postponed.

In such cases, OSHA regulations allow workers to leave with full protection against any sort of retaliation. Every Chicago personal injury attorney is familiar with situations in which these laws save lives.

Blowing the whistle is not always easy

In the current climate of economic instability, workers are often afraid to speak up about unsafe conditions on the job. Some people would like to stand up for their safety and the safety of their co-workers, but may be intimidated by hints from supervisors or by precedents of other people who have been fired. Employees should know that American labor law is on their side.

Whistleblower protection can cut down on the tragically high rate of workplace injuries. It is important for employees to educate themselves about their rights. Workers who are facing dangerous situations on the job should consider speaking with a Chicago personal injury attorney today.