Select Committee on Science and Technology First Report

CHAPTER 2: Changes in Regulatory Arrangements since 2000

The Aviation Health Working Group (AHWG)

2.1.  In response to the Committee's original report the Government set up in 2001 the AHWG, a free-standing interdepartmental group chaired by the Department for Transport (DfT). The remit of the AHWG is given in Box 1. Members of the group include representatives of the Department of Health (DH), the CAA, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), airlines, unions and passenger groups. The AHWG has recently reviewed how it operates and widened its membership to include representatives of aircraft manufacturers. The Group has met 25 times since it was set up in 2001.


Remit of the Aviation Health Working Group

The Aviation Health Working Group will meet on a regular basis and will work in partnership with other interested parties to give effect to the Government response to the House of Lords Inquiry into Air Travel and Health. Particular responsibilities identified in the response are to:

  • Provide a forum for interested Government departments and agencies to consider issues relevant to aviation health;
  • Provide an interface with the air transport industry, health experts and other interested parties on aviation health issues of mutual interest;
  • Evaluate the need for research into issues related to air travel and health, and consider the role of Government in supporting such research;
  • Ensure Ministers are kept informed and receive comprehensive advice on aviation health matters;
  • Monitor developments that impinge on the health of those travelling by air.

2.2.  The AHWG has also set up a research sub-group, chaired by the DH, which considers research proposals and needs. During the first two years the sub-group focused on DVT as well as a range of topics including air quality.

2.3.  We heard some criticisms of the speed of work of the AHWG, particularly in the early years. Peter Jackson, a Director of the Independent Pilots' Association (IPA), which is not represented on the AHWG, felt that progress had been slow. He told us that "bearing in mind your Lordships' recommendations came out in 2000 and the AHWG has only been effective for the last two years, a lot of time has been wasted" (Q 176). Even strong supporters of the Group such as Captain Tim Bamber, National Executive Committee Member of the British AirLine Pilots Association (BALPA), which is represented, commented on the speed of work: "it might have been slow off the ground, the AHWG did not hit the ground running, but in the last couple of years it has started working extremely well together" (Q 179).

2.4.  Notwithstanding these criticisms, in general the AHWG has been well received by the industry, unions, the regulatory authorities and passenger representatives. Dr Nigel Dowdall told us that "it [the AHWG] works very effectively; I guess like most people I was perhaps slightly sceptical of how it would work when it was first set up but I have been very impressed with the work that has happened" (Q 9).

The Aviation Health Unit (AHU)

2.5.  The AHU was set up in December 2003 within the CAA to improve understanding and knowledge of aviation health and to act as a "focal point" for these matters in the United Kingdom. The AHU is "the primary source of advice to DfT, DH and industry" (p 74). The head of the AHU is also a member of the AHWG, reporting to the Chief Medical Officer of the CAA. The AHU dealt with "around 100 queries"[7] from members of the public in 2005 and they also have input into the responses to queries from passengers received by DfT.

2.6.  Simon Evans, Chief Executive of the Air Transport Users' Council, said of the AHU: "we have taken great comfort from the setting up of the Aviation Health Unit within the Civil Aviation Authority, which does provide a repository for information and for people to know that there is an organisation taking care of concerns about health in aviation that were not being taken account of previously." (Q 179)

2.7.  But even though we were told that the AHU is "actively working to improve the visibility of the AHU for the travelling public" (Q 238), we question how effective it has been, and how much awareness there is among the travelling public of the work, and indeed the existence, of the AHU. We heard from members of the public of the difficulties they encounter when trying to get information on aviation health matters or when trying to make a complaint which is health related. For instance, in one unpublished submission we were told that "the CAA was the biggest fiasco I encountered with telephoning and being passed around to so many departments and no one knowing who should deal with this, I sent several emails regarding passenger health and received two emails back stating that passenger health was not within their remit and was a matter for the airline, as was consumer issues!". More broadly, the letter from the Work-related Death Advice Service mentioned above stated: "there appears to be no effective enforcement that we can see of health and safety law in relation to passenger health issues".

2.8.  Thomsonfly also told us that their understanding of the AHU was limited, adding "we would suggest that the AHU should consider raising its profile within the industry and should ensure a regular contact program with the UK based airlines to ensure an increased level of self promotion" (p 145).

The Civil Aviation Act 2006

2.9.  The developments already described were given a formal legal foundation by means of the Civil Aviation Act 2006. This gave the Secretary of State the general duty of organising, carrying out and encouraging measures for safeguarding the health of persons on board aircraft. The functions of the CAA, as set out in the Civil Aviation Act 1982, were also amended to include the health of persons aboard aircraft. The Act also gave the CAA the powers to recoup from the industry the costs of its AHU, some £200,000 a year[8]. In the words of Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, these changes in the law are "a world first" (Q 226).

The European Aviation Safety Agency

2.10.  In 2003 the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was set up to be an independent body under European law. It was designed to succeed the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA), which represented the civil aviation authorities of 42 member countries, mainly European. The aim of EASA is to co-ordinate safety regulation across Europe and "to promote the highest common standards of safety and environmental protection in civil aviation"[9]. It has a Management Board with representatives from the EU Member States and the European Commission.

2.11.  Since its creation EASA has progressively absorbed responsibilities from EU Member States' national regulatory bodies. In 2008 EASA is expected to assume responsibility for, among other things, air operations—which may include aviation health. We echo the concerns about this additional transfer of responsibilities expressed in the House of Commons Transport Committee's report The Work of the Civil Aviation Authority[10]. This states: "it is clear that this organisation [EASA] is not yet ready to do its job and it is vital that the UK transfers no further responsibilities to it until it has shown itself capable of undertaking its existing responsibilities". It would be very unfortunate if the good work of the Government and the CAA in aviation health were to vanish with the transfer of responsibilities. Sandra Webber, Chairman of the AHWG, told us that EASA "is looking to take on health responsibilities in the future. They have asked us to go and visit them … to talk about what we would see as the priorities we would want them to pursue" (Q 268). The Head of the AHU and the Chief Medical Officer of the CAA will participate in these discussions. It is essential that the message gets through to EASA.

Other changes in regulatory arrangements

2.12.  The regulatory framework for occupational and passenger health has continued to develop in recent years. In 2004 the Civil Aviation (Working Time) Regulations[11] were passed, implementing the provisions of Council Directive 2000/79/EC concerning the European Agreement on the Organisation of Working Time of Mobile Workers in Civil Aviation. They state the maximum working hours for aircrew and regulate rest periods and working patterns. These regulations also assign responsibilities to the CAA for regulating occupational health and safety on board aircraft.

2.13.  The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005[12] came into force in 2006 to implement the European Directive 2003/10/EC Physical Agents (Noise) Directive. The Directive was designed to protect employees from exposure to noise at work and includes aircrew. The Government also set up the Aviation Occupational Health and Safety Working Group to look at certain aspects of crew health and safety in the cabin environment. The group is chaired by the CAA with membership drawn from airline unions.

2.14.  The CAA continues to review its responsibilities in the field of occupational health. As recently as August 2007 it published Civil Aviation Publication (CAP) 757, a guide on "Occupational Health and Safety on-board an Aircraft"[13] aimed at aircraft operators and others involved in the operation of aircraft. We welcome this guide, which covers such areas as manual handling, burns, trips and falls and biohazards. However, we note that CAP 757 does not mention fume events or chemical exposure (issues which are certainly regarded in some quarters as fundamental to occupational health in the air). We return to this issue in Chapter 4.

2.15.  At the same time as developing its guidance on occupational health, the CAA has engaged in dialogue with the HSE, with a view to clarifying possible overlaps in the regulatory responsibilities of the two bodies. In 1999 a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was drawn up by the HSE and the CAA to provide clarity between the separate disciplines of regulating aircraft safety and the regulation of occupational health and safety. In March 2005 "Annex 8" to the existing MoU was published, with agreed guidelines setting out their respective responsibilities for enforcing occupational health and safety in relation to public transport aircraft while on the ground and in the air[14].

2.16.  In broad terms the HSE is responsible for regulating the health and safety of "all work activities on and around an aircraft on the ground" including the health and safety of crew members while outside the aircraft. Meanwhile the CAA is responsible for the regulation of health and safety of crew members while they are on board an aircraft. What remains unclear is who has responsibility for the health and safety of passengers on board an aircraft—the issue raised by the Work-related Death Advice Service. The HSE is responsible while the aircraft is "on the ground with the doors open, or the aircraft is manoeuvring or being manoeuvred on the ground without the intention of flight". It may be inferred that the CAA is responsible for the health and safety of passengers while on board an aircraft but neither the MoU nor Annex 8 says so specifically.


2.17.  We welcome the establishment of the AHU within the CAA. However, we recommend that the AHU and the CAA work together with Government departments and the aviation industry in raising the profile of its work so that it becomes the focus for airlines, passengers and health care professionals in their quest for information on aviation health matters. The AHU should become the body responsible for handling queries and complaints from passengers on health issues and should publish guidelines on how those queries will be handled.

2.18.  We agree with the House of Commons Transport Committee that the United Kingdom cannot and must not transfer any further responsibilities from the CAA to EASA until it is clear that EASA is competent to exercise such responsibilities. We recommend that the Government make the strongest possible representations to the European Commission and EASA that the high priority afforded to aviation health in the United Kingdom as a result of the work of the AHWG, the CAA and the AHU must be replicated within EASA.

2.19.  We applaud the Government for having taken the steps necessary to make aviation health a priority. The United Kingdom has always been at the forefront in aviation issues and our regulatory arrangements continue to be seen as a model by other countries. However, we recommend:

  • that the Memorandum of Understanding between the HSE and the CAA, and in particular its Annex 8, should spell out who has specific responsibilities for the health and safety of passengers;
  • that the HSE and CAA review the interpretation of "occupational health" as it applies to air crew, to ensure that emerging health issues are adequately reflected in regulatory arrangements.

7   AHWG Minutes 18 November 2005 Back

8   HC Deb 9 April 2003 col 257W Back

9   See Back

10   Transport Committee 13th Report (2005-06): The Work of the Civil Aviation Authority (HC 809) Back

11   See Back

12   See Back

13   See Back

14   See Back

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007