Toxic Uniforms Present Health Hazard for Flight Attendants

Union releases uniform safety guide for airlines, Congress, media

Washington, DC (May 24, 2018) — Toxic chemicals in flight attendant uniforms have caused a range of serious health problems in recent years, including severe skin rashes and irritation, irritated and swollen eyes, breathing problems, and hair loss. The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) today released a quick reference guide to secure safe uniforms, define the problem, and encourage airlines to take adequate steps to avoid the safety hazard. New uniforms are rolling out at major airlines next week and over the next few years.

“Uniforms are not just color, design, comfort and fit,” said AFA International President Sara Nelson. “Today, they have also become a fundamental workplace health and safety issue. No one should have to worry about becoming physically ill just from getting dressed for work, but that has happened and science confirms it. We need to put procedures in place to ensure it never happens again.”

Video: Quick Reference Guide on Safe Flight Attendant Uniforms.

Crewmembers at specific airlines are facing health issues caused by the chemicals in the fabrics of their uniforms. AFA makes uniform fiber and chemical content recommendations to airlines. AFA’s health and safety experts and industrial hygienists can provide experienced advice to airlines.

After toxic uniform issues were raised in 2012, Alaska Airlines worked with AFA to improve the safety of uniforms by adopting the Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX®, a label that certifies testing methods and the composition of potentially harmful chemicals. The new Alaska uniforms will roll out in late 2019.

Since September 2016, flight attendants at American Airlines Group, more than 3,000 of which are AFA members flying under the American Eagle brand, have been getting sick from toxic uniforms. AFA collected reports and conducted testing to define the problem, while working to achieve safe alternatives. New uniforms have been announced, but AFA continues to express concern to American that health hazards continue without an alternative while Flight Attendants wait years for replacement uniforms to be rolled out.

The health hazards posed by uniforms is a relatively new issue stemming from the rapid rise in purchasing uniforms made overseas. Twenty years ago, most flight attendant uniforms were made by fabrics produced in the United States. But trade agreements have changed that and moved production all over the world. Tracing the dangerous chemicals in the fabrics is extremely difficult without a process in place from the start to avoid this health hazard.

“Uniforms have always been a hot topic in aviation and an immediate visual presentation of airline crews,” said Nelson. “Uniforms make crewmembers easily identifiable and respected as we perform our role as aviation's first responders. Our union works with airlines to design and source uniforms in a way that considers style, wearability, security, and health and safety.”

AFA represents 50,000 Flight Attendants at 20 airlines. This short video on Flight Attendant uniforms covers the gamut of uniform issues, from style to sourcing for safety, health, and security.

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