The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a division of the US Department of Labor, has ordered Air Methods Corp. to reinstate a pilot who it has ruled was ‘illegally fired for refusing to fly unsafe medical transport helicopter’. Faced one night with a trip over mountainous terrain in a medical transport helicopter with a faulty emergency locator transmitter, the pilot refused to fly the unsafe aircraft and was later terminated in retaliation for doing so, said OSHA. As a result of the Administrations investigation into the incident, Air Methods has been ordered to reinstate the pilot, pay $158,000 in back wages and $8,500 in damages, and remove disciplinary information from the employee's personnel record. In addition, the company must provide whistleblower rights information to all employees.
OSHA has ruled that Air Methods Corp. violated the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21), which protects employees who report air safety information, when it fired the pilot who was assigned to the company's Lucasville, Ohio station. AIR21. The Administration also noted that Federal Aviation Administration regulation requires pilots in command of a civil aircraft to determine if an aircraft is in a condition for safe flight.
Nick Walters, OSHA's regional administrator in Chicago, commented: “Pilots should never have to choose between the safety of themselves and their passengers, and their job. Whistleblower protections are critical to keeping workplaces safe. Disciplining an employee for following safety procedures is illegal and puts everyone at risk.”
OSHA found that Air Methods fired the pilot in retaliation for his refusal to fly a helicopter with an emergency locator transmitter that was not functioning properly on 30 July 2013. The employee was placed on administrative leave the following day and terminated on 5 August 2013.
Any of the parties in this case can file an appeal with the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges.
Mike Allen, president of domestic air medical services for Air Methods, responded to the OSHA statement, saying: “We disagree with the decision, and at this time, Air Methods is exploring its rights to appeal the decision. Safety is and always will be our highest priority, and we continue to raise the bar to ensure the safe return of our crews and patients to their loved ones. In 2013, Air Methods became the first air medical provider and helicopter operator to achieve the highest level (Level 4) within the FAA’s voluntary Safety Management System (SMS) program. By earning Level 4 status, we continue to actively pursue and invest in technology, systems and training, all while encouraging a culture of compliance. We also have strict policies and procedures in place to ensure our crews are empowered to make the day-to-day decisions, individually, to do the right thing, to make a difference, and to be the strongest link in the performance of our individual duties.”