MIL-OSI USA: Federal judge affirms 2022 citation, penalties against United Airlines for failing to protect employee seriously injured when 737 crushes foot

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Source: US Department of Labor

NEWARK, NJ – A federal administrative law judge has affirmed safety violations against United Airlines related to a 2021 incident at Newark Liberty International Airport in which a 737’s tire crushed a technician’s foot as they worked with one of the company’s towing crews.

The decision by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission on April 23, 2024, agreed with the citation issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for violating the general duty clause and its proposed $14,502 penalty, the maximum amount allowed at the time of the citation. 

The commission’s action follows an OSHA investigation into how the technician’s right foot was crushed on Nov. 24, 2021, leading to the employee’s hospitalization and amputation of five toes. Agency investigators determined United Airlines violated federal regulations by failing to follow its own policies and procedures for towing a plane safely. The airline contested the citation before the OSHRC, and on May 28 filed a petition seeking to appeal the judge’s decision.

“United Airlines could have prevented an employee from suffering a debilitating injury had the company followed its own safety procedures for towing a jet weighing as much as 50 tons,” said OSHA Area Director Joseph Czapik in Parsippany, New Jersey. “This operation is recognized by the airline industry as a dangerous and well-known hazard and proper procedures must be followed to prevent serious injuries or worse.”

The judge found that the department’s Office of the Solicitor proved United Airlines did not implement feasible and effective means to abate the hazards by following important tow-safety policies. The jurist also concluded the aircraft exposed technicians to serious struck-by and crushed-by hazards during the towing process. In the decision, the judge denied United Airlines’ attempt to cite employee misconduct given the finding that, while tow-safety rules were violated routinely, the company failed to take corrective action in response.

“The Department of Labor takes the importance of protecting employees from recognized hazards very seriously. While not specifically regulated by an OSHA standard, there can be no argument that towing an airplane is, in fact, hazardous work,” said Regional Solicitor Jeffrey S. Rogoff in New York. “As our case vigorously demonstrated — and the judge agreed — United Airlines was liable for not enforcing its own safety procedures for this dangerous operation.”

OSHA’s Parsippany Area Office conducted the workplace safety investigation, and attorneys Jordan Laris Cohen and Jacob Heyman-Kantor in the department’s Office of the Solicitor in New York litigated the case. 

Docket Number:        22-0744

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