Inadequate Plane Cleaning May Have Exposed Flyers to Virus

Substandard plane-cleaning practices on aQantas Airways Ltd. plane may have put workers and passengers at risk of catching the new coronavirus, according to a workplace safety watchdog.

The airline’s method of cleaning planes that could have carried infected passengers is “inadequate,”SafeWork NSW said in a March 2 notice to Qantas that was released by a trade union Thursday. “Workers and other persons may be exposed to a risk of injury or illness,” the state government body said in its report.

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.”

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A copy of the notice was sent to Bloomberg News by the Transport Workers’ Union of Australia. A spokeswoman for SafeWork NSW confirmed it issued a so-called improvement notice to Qantas, but was unable to comment on the contents of a document that hasn’t been publicly released.

A spokesman for the airline said it’s considering appealing the notice. “Qantas is not known for being complacent when it comes to safety or the cleanliness of our aircraft,” it said in a statement. The plane in question wasn’t the aircraft that evacuated Australians from Wuhan in China and Japan, the spokesman said.

Qantas publicized the extent of its cleaning after evacuating Australians from Japan and Wuhan in China, the epicenter of the virus. The airline said it cleaned the Boeing Co. 747 used for all those flights for 36 hours with a hospital-grade sterilizer. But the report from the safety watchdog paints a different picture, and its specific reference to the possible risk of coronavirus infection reflects passenger concern that’s contributed to a slump in air travel demand across the region.

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The safety watchdog ordered Qantas to develop a cleaning system that minimized the risk of exposure to diseases, including the coronavirus. Qantas has until March 30 to comply, the watchdog said. SafeWork NSW recommended passengers, rather than the cleaners, get rid of their waste.

According to the inspector’s report, personal protective equipment wasn’t “mandated” for most of the cleaning tasks. Qantas said its cleaners are provided with such equipment, and they also receive masks and safety suits to deal with hazardous items.

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