According to a workplace safety watchdog group, Qantas Airways Ltd. Is using a method of cleaning its planes that is inadequate in the face of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.
“Workers and other persons may be exposed to a risk of injury or illness,” reads a notice issued by SafeWork NSW, New South Wales, Australia’s workplace health and safety regulator.
According to the notice, which was obtained by Bloomberg news, an inspector “observed workers wiping over multiple tray tables with the same wet cloth with no disinfectant and cleaning unknown liquids on floors and surfaces,” the notice said. Cleaners were “required to handle wet and used tissues, used face masks, soiled nappies and the workers advised they occasionally have to clean vomit and blood off surfaces.”
Moreover, the inspector’s report said that Qantas did not mandate personal protective equipment for most of the airplane cleaners’ tasks.
This report contradicts statements by Qantas. After evacuating Australians from Japan and Wuhan, China, where the virus is widespread, Qantas claimed it had cleaned the plane it used for the evacuations for 36 hours using hospital-grade sterilizer. It also claims that its airplane cleaners are provided with personal protective equipment, including masks and safety suits when dealing with hazardous materials.
However, what constitutes a hazardous material may be different now, with the advent of COVID-19. It may be, for example, that the cleaners were not routinely wearing masks and protective equipment when dealing with discarded tissues and face masks, which could be contaminated with the virus. However, Qantas says that the plane in question in the inspector’s report is not the one used to evacuate people from Wuhan and Japan.
SafeWork NSW has ordered Qantas to set up a cleaning protocol that minimizes the risk of employees’ and passengers’ being exposed to infectious diseases such as the coronavirus. It gave the airline until March 30 to comply.
A spokesperson for Qantas said that it is considering an appeal. “Qantas is not known for being complacent when it comes to safety or the cleanliness of our aircraft,” the company said in a statement.