Piedmont Airlines, a subsidiary of American Airlines, has been fined $15,000 by OSHA for failing to protect its employees from the hazards of working near operating plane engines.
The fine comes after a tragic incident on December 31, 2020, when Courtney Edwards, a 34-year-old ground agent, was killed by being sucked into the engine of an American Eagle jet at Montgomery Regional Airport in Alabama.
OSHA’s investigation found that Piedmont Airlines did not provide adequate training, communication, or supervision to its ground crew, and that Edwards’ death could have been prevented if she had followed the safety instructions. OSHA also said that Piedmont Airlines did not comply with the federal standards for occupational safety and health.
The Communications Workers of America, the union representing Edwards and her co-workers, said that they will continue to fight for justice and safety for all airline workers. They also said that Piedmont Airlines may contest the fine, which was issued on June 7 and is the maximum amount allowed by law.
Piedmont Airlines said that safety is their top priority and that they will review OSHA’s recommendations. Crystal Byrd, a spokesperson for Piedmont Airlines, said: ‘We appreciate the recommendations from OSHA and will ensure that a thorough review is accomplished.’
However, OSHA’s findings contradict the initial report from the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB), which blamed Edwards for her own death. The NTSB report said that Edwards was wearing a headset and communicating with the flight crew during the shutdown procedure of an Embraer E175 jet that had arrived from Dallas with 59 passengers and four crew members on board.
The report also said that Edwards had received a safety briefing before the flight arrived, which warned her to stay at least 14 feet away from the engines. The report said that Edwards acknowledged and understood the warning, but did not follow it and moved closer to the engine as it was winding down.
The report said that the engine’s suction force was so strong that it pulled Edwards into the inlet, causing fatal injuries. The report said that the engine was shut down as soon as the flight crew realized what had happened. The report said that the incident caused minor damage to the engine and no damage to the aircraft. The report concluded that the probable cause of the accident was ‘the ground agent’s failure to maintain a safe distance from an operating engine during an aircraft shutdown procedure.’
The NTSB report was based on surveillance video, witness statements, and aircraft data. The report said that Edwards violated the protocol of not approaching the front of a running jet engine and staying away from the ingestion zone until the airplane’s rotating beacon light shut off. The report cited the American Eagle Ground Operations Manual, which instructs workers to keep a safe distance of at least 15 feet from the engines and warns them of the dangers of jet engines.
The NTSB report is not final and may be revised or updated before it is published.
Edwards left behind three children and her mother, who have received nearly $120,000 in donations from a GoFundMe page set up by Donielle Prophete, a local union rep. Prophete wrote on the page: ‘Please know that this tragedy has and will affect her mother, family, friends and kids for years to come.’
Edwards was originally from Niceville, Florida, but moved to Alabama in 2013. She was described by her co-worker Divonta Palmer as dedicated and motivated to do her best job. Palmer also said that the incident should serve as a reminder for ground crews to be careful and safe.
According to Popular Mechanics, there have been 33 reports of people being ingested by Boeing engines over the last forty years. The website said that death by ingestion is ‘uncommon’ but not ‘unprecedented.’