In an industry like ours, where there are no production lines, people are our most important asset and everything depends on how they work as part of a team. This means that, to get the best results, managers have to care about how they (the employees) live and function, not just about how they work and produce.
(Sir Colin Marshall, ex-chairman of British Airways, quoted in the Financial Times, 1984)
The airline industry is a popular playground for HRM policies and practices and so provides a cornucopia of insight, both in terms of the location of OHS in HRM agendas and in terms of the complex array of factors that influence OHS policy, practice and outcomes. These include an intensely competitive market environment, a relatively loose regulatory framework and a self-regulatory approach. In an industry that claims ‘people are its most important asset’, one might expect ‘good practice’ in terms of OHS. Equally, we might expect modern aircraft to offer a salubrious working environment, while the safety-sensitive nature of the industry might lead us to believe that the highest quality OHS standards are continuously met.
While corporate statements certainly appear to support and reinforce such expectations, a growing body of international research provides persuasive contradictory evidence suggesting that quite the opposite is true. This creates a series of conflicts and contradictions in relation to the principles of HRM and our expectations of health and safety management. First, there is some evidence to suggest that airlines are fully aware of a range of health and safety risks in the aircraft cabin, yet do little to minimise or remove these because of the costs involved in taking remedial action. If this were the case, it would not only ridicule their pious mission statements, but would also suggest that in one of the world’s most safety-sensitive industries, worker health and safety is routinely exploited in the pursuit of higher profits. Second, in an industry that depends so heavily on cabin crews’ commitment to cultural values such as service quality, the diminution of employee health would run counter to service and safety goals, as well as potentially undermining