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Lord Smith of Leigh: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Countess, Lady Mar, on the radical amendment she has tabled. It is radical because no other clause refers to airports. We have this rather anachronistic term "aerodrome". However, I wonder whether it is necessary to introduce this amendment as airport operators already have responsibility for what happens on airport premises under existing health and safety and other legislation. It is unnecessary to bring in powers for the Secretary of State as well and it will lead to confusion about who is responsible for what.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken on this important issue. All the requirements of Amendments Nos. 15, 17 and 18, moved by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, are covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which regulates risks to people arising from work activities in Britain. As noble Lords will be aware, it has a wide scope, imposing duties on employers and self-employed persons to protect themselves, employees and the wider public, so far as is reasonably practicable, from all the risks to health and safety that their work activity creates.
 
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The noble Countess will be aware of the extent to which health and safety inspectors are concerned with airport management and the arrival and departure of passengers, and all those who work for their efficient progress through the airport. As my noble friend Lord Soley mentioned in the earlier amendment, we are talking about large numbers of employees and a wide range of activities, which are covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, why can persons onboard aircraft not be covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974? Some of them will be working.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is so, but there is a difficulty when the aircraft moves out of British legislative space. The House will recognise that aircraft present that difficulty on a range of issues. I wanted to emphasise that the safety of passengers on airport and aerodrome premises—which her three amendments concentrate upon—is certainly covered by this legislation.

On the points of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, there are legal requirements on us to ensure air quality standards around airports; we are governed by EU requirements on emissions standards in our ambient air, irrespective of the source of emissions. When we published our air quality strategy in January 2000, we set out health-based objectives for the eight main air pollutants, and deadlines for achieving them. The strategy identified the action required at national and international level, and the contribution that the Government, industry, transport, local authorities, business and individuals can make to improve air quality. EC limits on levels of particulate pollutants in ambient air came into effect in 2005, and will apply to nitrogen dioxide from 2010. We are committed to meeting the European standards, and are giving clear evidence of our commitment to deal with air pollution within this framework. Other factors, such as the effects of noise on human health, are the subject of continuing research. We expect airport operators to undertake appropriate health impact assessments when bringing forward any expansion plans. We have framed environmental objectives for each airport in the recent consultation on night flying restrictions, which was the subject of earlier consideration.

We are committed to taking account of the guideline values, and will do so over the 30-year time horizon of the air transport White Paper. We also support the World Health Organisation's conclusions for regular reviews and revisions to the guidelines as new scientific evidence emerges. The Government do not, therefore, believe that Clause 8 should be extended in line with this amendment. We already have policies and statutory powers in place to deal with these problems. I hope noble Lords will recognise that an important feature of airports has been identified; of that there is no question. The Government are fully aware of it, have strategies to deal with these issues and already
 
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have appropriate powers to act effectively. I therefore hope the noble Countess will withdraw her amendment.

6.45 pm

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's reply, and to other noble Lords who took part.

At this stage, I will read what the Minister has said. I am still not very happy about the Divisions but, if necessary, I can come back on Third Reading. I beg leave to withdrawn the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 16 to 18 not moved.]

The Countess of Mar moved Amendment No. 19:


"CIVIL AVIATION OCCUPATIONAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL MEDICAL MONITORING AND ACTION CENTRE
(1) There shall be an independent organisation to be known as the Civil Aviation Occupational and Environmental Medical Monitoring and Action Centre (CA-OEMMAC).
(2) CA-OEMMAC is to have the functions conferred on it by or under this or any other Act.
(3) Schedule (CA-OEMMAC: Supplementary) makes further provision about CA-OEMMAC."

The noble Countess said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 19, I will speak also to Amendment No. 29.

On Second Reading, and again in Committee, I detailed my concerns about the effects of air contamination incidents on aircraft pilots, cabin crew and passengers. I recognise that some of the detail was very technical and the Minister will no doubt be relieved to know that I will not repeat it. I would like to express my gratitude to him, however, for meeting me after Committee stage.

The Minister may recall that, in Committee, I asked him to give me a reasoned rebuttal of the facts I gave in my speech when I moved this amendment. As no rebuttal has been forthcoming, I must assume that he accepts the accuracy of my assertions—particularly the technical ones. The more I look at this problem, the more I understand that it is one of management. Christine Standing, in her paper The Aviation Safety System: political, organisational and personal, a copy of which the Minister has, says:

A survey conducted by BALPA and published in a leading occupational health journal showed that less than 4 per cent of contaminated air events experienced by pilots in aircraft were recorded on the CAA mandatory occurrence report database. I will not go through all the Written Answers that Ministers have given to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and myself as to the reasons for this discrepancy. They are all in Hansard. I will, however, say that they are very often contradictory and against the evidence.
 
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I have tried to find out from pilots and cabin crew who have been affected by contaminated air events why reporting levels are so low. I am told that there is complacency among pilots that a bad smell is "normal". Because events have been occurring over many years—in fact, much longer than the phenomenon has been known to exist—the complacency has become in-bred, with new pilots asking older ones what the smell is and being told "That's normal. You get it all the time".

Although airlines deny it, there is commercial pressure exerted on pilots to operate aircraft, probably most prevalent in the low-cost sector. The consequences of reporting a defect such as a contaminated air event in the aircraft log is that it will have to be investigated before aircraft can fly again. Understandably, airlines do not have multi-million pound aircraft in reserve in case an aircraft is grounded for investigation. Consequently the flying programme will suffer.

Pilots are reliant upon airlines for information and advice. Some are wrongly being told that they only need to report, under the mandatory occurrence reporting scheme, cases where oxygen is used or when the pilots are fully incapacitated. In fact, Article 142 of the Air Navigation Order and Directive 2003/42/EC requires pilots to report all cases of,

without qualification of the extent of incapacitation. Until recently, oxygen was rarely used in contaminated air events, as pilots' checklists did not advise its use, and neither did the airlines or the CAA.

There are no onboard detection or warning systems to alert a pilot to the fact that a contaminated air event is taking place. Reliance is therefore placed upon the individual's sense of smell to detect such an event—if he has a sense of smell and if, indeed, it is characterised by smell. Repeated exposure may diminish the sense of smell and consequently reduce detection. Most importantly, a pilot's licence is only valid when it contains a valid medical certificate. If pilots were to report contamination events, they may feel vulnerable to medical examination, followed by the possible suspension of their medical certificates. With no licence there is no job—hence a reluctance to report.

All contaminated air events are safety issues as they have the potential to impact on flight safety. The European Aviation Safety Agency rules that govern the airworthiness of a plane state that each crew compartment must have enough fresh air to enable crew members to perform their duties without discomfort or fatigue; and that crew and passenger compartment air must be free from harmful or hazardous concentrations of gases or vapours.

I repeat: "free from".

These regulations are mandatory, yet the CAA chooses to distinguish between what is and what is not a safe level of contamination without any scientific evidence to confirm or rule out a contaminated air event or the extent of any contamination. Cabin or cockpit air is not routinely monitored and not once have tests been conducted during a fume event. In fact,
 
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in evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee's inquiry into air travel and health in 2000 the CAA stated:

and:

Is there not a rather large gap between "undue discomfort or fatigue", as stated in the regulations and the CAA's interpreting them as "incapacity"?

That highlights one part of the problem. Originally the CAA and its US equivalent, the FAA, were purely commercial organisations, but, by the late 1920s, it was recognised that air safety needed to be regulated, and in this country the regulatory duties were placed on the CAA. A former inspector general of the US Department of Transportation observed that this,

because,

Airline accident prevention and commercial management are polarised. Piloting an aircraft is a dangerous occupation, and it is in the aircrews' interests to promote safe practices to reduce the incidence of accidents. Managers are responsible for ensuring, among other things, the financial viability of the organisation that they serve.

Research into accidents and incidents reveal management failures that are contributory factors. Research evidence shows that when an organisation develops a "them and us" structure, attitudes become antithetical, and, if they are habitual, lead to behaviour that ignores genuine concerns; for example, managers unintentionally may regard aircrews as whiners—as indeed they were described to me just a few days ago—and fail to support them when they express concerns about their flying conditions.

As Christine Standing says in her paper:

In other walks of life—and we have heard from the Minister this evening—the Health and Safety Executive is responsible for health and safety at work, but, as was noted by the Science and Technology Committee in 2000,

There is a memorandum of understanding between the CAA and the Health and Safety Executive in order to avoid overlapping responsibilities, with the CAA
 
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having the lead. It has been noted by Graeme Henderson in his paper: Enforcement of Health and Safety on Aircraft, SPDA4 2002, that:

So we have a situation where there is no one body to which aircrew can turn when health and safety concerns arise. Neither the CAA nor the HSE seem willing to accept the responsibility, and Clause 8, as currently worded, will not cure the ill. My proposals for—I will use the abbreviation—OEMMAC may not be ideal, but it would provide a framework upon which to build an organisation that would be respected by all the staff employed by the airlines and the CAA, whether they be ground staff, aircrew on the ground or in the air, or passengers on the ground or in the air.

The organisation could also serve the public involved in incidents concerning aircraft. I am not talking just about contaminated air incidents—I have used those as examples because they involve a subject about which I have some knowledge. OEMMAC would deal with all occupational health and safety matters. It would be totally independent of the CAA, the airlines operators and aircraft manufacturers. I do not envisage a large staff, just an experienced and appropriately qualified group who would know where and to whom to refer people who seek their advice.

The OEMMAC would be able to advise employers and unions where working practices were not safe or engineering modifications were necessary, and, if necessary, report failures to the Health and Safety Executive for prosecution. It would also be able to propose research topics. It would have contacts with international organisations connected with the commercial airline business.

I recognise that the wording of my schedule may not be perfect, but I hope that the Minister will not ignore what I have had to say, and that he may even come up with some alternative but equally effective suggestions.

As Christine Standing said at the end of her paper:

I repeat, "integration"—

I would add "and passengers and ground staff".

Finally, it is perhaps appropriate that just last evening our own occupational health, safety and welfare organisation sent out a notice inviting us to a seminar entitled: "If you think safety is expensive, try having an accident!". I beg to move.


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