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The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management believes that KLM is not doing enough to protect its employees from the release of toxic exhaust gases from aircraft. This appears from internal documents. It is clear from this that the ministry is “shocked” by the Zembla broadcast ‘Sick of Schiphol’, which shows that the employees work every day fully in the gases of the aircraft engines. The ministry appears to be unhappy with “KLM’s reticent attitude” in the matter. The top minister therefore wanted to speak to the top of the airline a few days after the broadcast.
“Economic interests should not come at the expense of people’s health,” the officials write in preparation for that meeting. They want KLM to be made aware that the company “accepts state aid on the one hand to survive the corona crisis”, but is reluctant if the same government asks for actions for a healthier working environment.
A spokesperson confirms to Zembla that the ministry’s general secretary led the conversation at the time ‘and emphasized the importance of this topic’.
Heart problems and cancer
In ‘Sick of Schiphol’ (December 2021) it appears that Schiphol and KLM were already warned 15 years ago by their own occupational health and safety services that platform employees run an increased risk of heart problems and lung cancer. It concerns around twenty thousand employees who work daily in the exhaust gases from aircraft and diesel vehicles. In the broadcast, platform employees talk for the first time about the health problems they suffer from their work: “I don’t know a colleague or employee at Schiphol with a different cause of death than cancer,” says Gerben de Jong, who is, among other things, on the platform daily as a manager for KLM. .
Prime Minister Ruth
According to the documents, the investigation is causing great concern in various ministries. General Affairs requests Infrastructure and Water Management to inform Prime Minister Rutte about the subject before the broadcast.
And then IenW Minister Barbara Visser will call Schiphol’s managing director Dick Benschop that afternoon.
The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management writes that they are “shocked by what has been seen” in Zembla: “Especially the manner and duration in which the employees are standing directly in the plane’s jet blast, gives rise to concern for the employees’ working conditions on the platform and their health.”
The ministry has therefore decided to “escalate against the sector at the highest level (especially KLM) and explicitly convey the minister’s signal again”.
‘KLM must ensure a healthy working environment’
A few days after the broadcast, the telephone conversation is scheduled with the top of KLM. The preparation for that meeting shows the dissatisfaction with the company’s position. For example, the ministry believes that KLM does not cooperate properly “on research into the health of employees and improvement of working conditions.” While the ministry considers it of “greatest importance” that the ultrafine dust file is “energized”.
The ministry also states that Schiphol took action after the broadcast. For example, the airport has proposed one approach: setting up a sector-wide task force to consider the individual exposure to ultrafine particles of apron workers and the measures to reduce this exposure.
It is clear from the documents that the ministry is upset that KLM is not in favor of an independent chairman of such a task force. A ‘Taskforce Substances’ has now been formed. The chairman of this committee is Wim Mul, who works for the Schiphol Group.
Example of Copenhagen airport
It can also be read that the ministry expects KLM to “proactively” focus on measures that can be taken in the short term, similar to the approach in Copenhagen.
In ‘Sick of Schiphol’ you can see that for many years Copenhagen has recognized the danger of ultrafine particles for apron workers. Several measures have been taken at the airport in the Danish capital to reduce exposure to ultrafine particles. For example, the planes are towed to and from the runway and the engines are only started there. Lung and bladder cancer and the lung disease COPD have been recognized as an occupational disease for several platform employees at Copenhagen Airport.
‘Commercial advertising texts lost’
As a result of the broadcast, 72 parliamentary questions were asked. The Ministry of I&W has asked KLM and Schiphol for input to answer the questions. In an email, the ministry writes to KLM and Schiphol that “the information has of course been edited because we have to write some things down differently than you do. And the sales pitches, well, they’re dead.”
Zembla asked KLM for an answer this morning. The airline has not yet responded.
Watch the broadcast ‘Sick from Schiphol’
Listen to the podcast ‘Why Schiphol employees risk becoming seriously ill’