Health Risks of Aircraft Noise

As flight travel becomes more prevalent, communities have started to feel the effects of these loud aircrafts. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times highlights the impacts of flight noise on communities and how citizens can work with government officials to minimize the noise impacts. Jet Blue has taken notice of how loud noise from these jets can negatively impact communities by airports so they are retrofitting their Airbus fleet to make the aircraft quieter. This is a win for individuals on the ground, but in-flight noise is still a concern among pilots, flight attendants, and passengers.

Sound is considered a pollutant according to OSHA. It has the ability to cause physiological stress, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and disruption of job performance.  and which means there are standards noise must comply with. Currently, the noise standard in the work place is 85 decibels over an 8-hour period. OSHA’s jurisdictions do not extend to aircraft cabins which is currently regulated by the FAA. The FAA has given OSHA permission to regulate aircraft cabin noise. Figure A shows regulations and standards set in place. Together OSHA and the FAA have been working together to keep noise standards under 85dB but there are still a few shortcomings that can be addressed to better protect pilots, flight attendants, and passengers in flight.

As flight technology advances, flight range increases with flights exceeding 17 hours. Since protective standards set in place by OSHA have a limit of 90db, exposure over this time can be damaging to one’s health. A study done by Zevitas et. al. shows that sound levels in airplane cabin during flight range from 38db to 110db. Once sound levels reach 90db, a protective program should be put in place but so far there is no mandatory protection plan for pilots, flight attendants, and passengers. More research on airplane cabin noise and aircraft retrofitting should be done to lower potential flight-related health risks.

Figure A: Noise standards in the workplace

Figure A: Noise standards in the workplace

Figure A

Harvard Researchers Taking on FA Exposure to Radiation

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets standards and regulations to protect worker health. Historically, flight attendants had been excluded from OSHA’s protection.  In 2014, OSHA started a monitoring program that focuses on flight attendants’ exposure to noise, hazard communication and bloodborne pathogens (1), but not ionizing radiation. However, according to the National Council on Radiation Protection (NCRP), flight attendants are exposed to the largest effective dose among all US radiation workers due to cosmic ionizing radiation at altitude (2). Chronic exposure to low doses of ionizing radiation increases the chance of developing cancer over time.

Our recent study on flight attendant health found that flight attendants have a greater prevalence of cancer when compared to the general public (3), consistent with previous studies among U.S. and European flight attendants. The study used an analytical technique that calculated age-weighted standardized prevalence ratios (SPRs), and found an SPR of 2.15 for cancer at all sites.  This shows that there is over 2 times the prevalence of cancer among flight attendants compared to the general public, which is important to know because ionizing radiation could play a role in the increased cancer cases seen among flight attendants. Specific cancers that have been linked to flight attendant work include breast cancer, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.  While studies have been mixed regarding a relationship between melanoma and ionizing radiation, this form of radiation is considered a risk factor for breast and non-melanoma skin cancers.

Another risk factor for cancer experienced by flight attendants is Circadian rhythm disruption due to irregular and disrupted sleep patterns.  Second hand smoke exposure has the possibility of increasing cancer cases among flight attendants as well, but due to a regulation in 1998 that banned smoking on aircrafts, this exposure has been eliminated.

Works Cited

  1. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Applicability of certain OSHA standards to cabin crew members on Aircraft in Operation (2014). Accessed 27 March 2018.
  2. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements. Ionizing radiation exposure of the population of the United States. Report No. 160. In: Recommendations of the National Council on radiation protection and measurements (NCRP). Bethesda, MD: National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements; 2009. Accessed 27 March 2018.
  3. Estimating the health consequences of flight attendant work: comparing flight attendant health to the general population in a cross-sectional study

 

 

 

Alarm clock on bed in morning with sun light

Flight Attendant Rest Times Increased!

After over 20 years of research and advocacy, U.S. flight attendants have been successful in raising their minimum rest times between shifts to from 8 to 10 hours. This occurred due to the passing of the FAA re-authorization bill in October of 2018. This is a substantial increase over the earlier 8-hour minimum rest time, which does not include deplaning, boarding passengers, or traveling to and from the airport. It only includes time between landing and the next take-off, so an 8-hour minimum rest time could easily result in getting just a few hours of actual rest or sleep between flights.

In contrast, a 10-hour mandatory rest period is the same as that guaranteed to pilots, and rightfully recognizes flight attendants’ crucial role in protecting the safety and security of passengers. It also a great development given research into cabin crew fatigue, Circadian rhythm disruption, sleep disorders, and associated health effects, such as depression or possibly even cancer and cardiovascular disease. The Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study has reported that U.S. flight attendants have higher rates of fatigue, diagnosed sleep disorders, and depression relative to employed people in the U.S. general population, despite being healthier overall in terms of weight, smoking, blood pressure, and other factors related to overall health and healthy lifestyle choices.

See our publications: The self-reported health of U.S. flight attendants compared to the general population

and Estimating the health consequences of flight attendant work: comparing flight attendant health to the general population in a cross-sectional study

Flight - airline passenger seat with flight attendant in the background

Could My Flight Attendant Uniform Be Associated With My Wellbeing?

Alaska Airline flight attendants reported health complaints related to new uniforms rolled out in 2011 (1). By 2014, approximately 800 flight attendants had complained about how the new uniforms were negatively impacting their health, which led to Alaska Airlines recalling the uniforms, though without acknowledging harm. These flight attendants had reported a wide range of sometimes debilitating symptoms, including dry and itchy eyes, eye pain, blurred vision, sinus congestion and pain, ear pain, ear drum rupture, ear infections, nosebleeds, persistent runny nose and sore throat, ringing ears, cough, hoarseness/loss of voice, wheezing, lung infection symptoms, asthma symptoms, bronchitis symptoms, shortness of breath, multiple chemical sensitivity symptoms, itchy/irritated skin, and rashes/hives (2). The research recently published by Dr. McNeely and colleagues suggests these health symptoms could be associated with the uniforms, based on data from before, during, and after use of the uniforms among Alaska Airlines flight attendants.

In 2016, American Airlines flight attendants started to complain about health symptoms after switching to uniforms manufactured by the same company that produced the 2011 Alaska Airline uniforms.

Dr. Mordukhovich, one of the study’s authors, suggests the next step to solve this mystery is to conduct rigorous and comprehensive testing of uniforms, which is currently taking place through the Harvard School of Public Health.

 

1. Air Safety, Health and Security Department. Air Safety, Health and security department. 2017. http://ashsd.afacwa.org/?zone=%2Funionactive%2Fview_article.cfm&HomeID=160011. Accessed May 2018.
2. McNeely, et. al. Symptoms Related to New Flight attendant Uniforms. BMC Public Health (2017). Accessed May 2018

US Flight Crew Have Higher Cancer Rates Compared to the General Population

American flight attendants have a higher prevalence of several forms of cancer, including breast, uterine, gastrointestinal, thyroid, and cervical cancers, when compared with the general public, according to new research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Documenting health risks at 35,000 feet

Meditative Movement - Peter Payne

New Dartmouth FA Health Study: Is this one for you?

Flight - airline passenger seat with flight attendant in the background

Are flight attendants getting the health and safety protection they deserve?

Are flight attendants getting the health and safety protection they deserve?

All workers are entitled to a safe workplace under federal law and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets standards and regulations to ensure safe and healthful working conditions. Historically, flight attendants had been excluded from OSHA’s protection and while certain protections have recently been added, they may not necessarily be fully encompassing of all the potential risks to which cabin crewmembers are exposed.

In 2014, OSHA started a monitoring program that focuses on flight attendants’ exposure to noise, hazard communication and blood born pathogens. However, according to the National Council on Radiation Protection (NCRP), flight attendants are exposed to the largest effective dose of ionizing radiation among all workers exposed to radiation due to cosmic ionizing radiation at altitude, and this risk not currently covered under OSHA. This is important because chronic exposure to low doses of ionizing radiation increases the chance of developing cancer over time.

What we found

Our recent study on flight attendant health found that flight attendants have a greater prevalence of cancer when compared to the general public, consistent with previous studies among U.S. and European flight attendants.

The study used an analytical technique that calculated age-weighted standardized prevalence ratios (SPR). Our analysis determined that the SPR is 2.15 for cancer at all sites, which means that there is over 2 times the prevalence of cancer among flight attendants compared to the general public.

The increased exposure to ionizing radiation could play a role in the higher cancer cases seen among flight attendants.

In another soon to be published study, we note that specific cancers that have been linked to flight attendant work include breast cancer, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. While studies have been mixed regarding a relationship between melanoma and ionizing radiation, this form of radiation is considered a risk factor for breast and non-melanoma skin cancers.

Another risk factor for cancer experienced by flight attendants is Circadian rhythm disruption due to irregular and disrupted sleep patterns. Second hand smoke exposure has the possibility of increasing cancer cases among flight attendants as well, but due to a regulation in 1998 that banned smoking on aircrafts, this exposure has been eliminated.

More research is needed, however, this study emphasizes the need for increased attention and monitoring of other potential health hazards, such ionizing radiation, to which flight attendants are more frequently exposed than the general public.

Flight Attendant urges all Flight Attendants to participate in the Flight Attendant Health Study at https://fahealth.org

Why participate in the Flight Attendant Health Study?

Flight Attendant Health Study Team at SFO

Chicago O’Hare Recruitment 2/17-2/19! Come visit us.

Dear Flight Attendants,

Our researchers will be at Chicago O’Hare this Saturday to Monday to get word out about our survey and sensor study!

Visit us at Chicago O’Hare
Saturday 2/17 through Monday 2/19
We will be splitting our time between Terminals 1 and 3

We are looking forward to seeing and talking to Flight Attendants at these airports!

Come say hi and talk to us about our study!