Labor Inspectorate: Schiphol employees exposed to carcinogenic substances

Employees at Schiphol who load and unload suitcases, fill up with kerosene, bring food on board or otherwise have to work near the aircraft are structurally exposed to carcinogenic substances.

Employers at the airport – Schiphol itself, the airlines, ground handling firms and other service providers – do not do enough to protect employees from emissions.

This is stated by the Dutch Labor Inspectorate (NLA). The inspection published its final investigation on Friday morning into exposure to exhaust fumes on the platform and occupational health and safety at the airport. The companies at Schiphol must now take measures as quickly as possible to reduce emissions.

The inspection started its investigation after an enforcement request from the FNV trade union in December 2021. It affects at least 2,000 employees: not only ground employees but also, for example, people who accompany disabled passengers to the plane or employees of contractors who build at the airport.

The inspectorate already published a provisional decision in May 2023. The conclusion: working on the platform is bad for health and appropriate measures should be taken to improve the work.

The NLA stated in May that Schiphol had known for at least fifteen years about the harmful effects of aircraft emissions on employees and that the airport had failed to tackle exposure in all that time. The action plan that Schiphol has drawn up to improve the air quality on the platform is still insufficient, according to the NLA.

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<strong>Schiphol</strong> does not have to report to the Environment Agency how many harmful substances it emits. ” class=”dmt-article-suggestion__image” src=”×96/smart/filters:no_upscale()/s3/”/></p><h2 class=Exposure ‘evident’

The inspection has now definitively concluded that employees on the platform are exposed to carcinogenic substances in too high concentrations for too long. These substances are released both when kerosene is burned by aircraft and when diesel is burned by ground transport.

Diesel engine emissions (DME) have long been on the list of carcinogenic substances used by occupational health and safety care. Employers must make every effort to protect their staff against DME. Kerosene engine emissions (KME, aircraft emissions), on the other hand, are absent from that list. That has led to a lot of discussion.

The companies involved were given six weeks since May to respond to the NLA’s preliminary investigation. Schiphol and KLM stated that, in simple terms, it has not been proven that burning kerosene produces carcinogenic emissions. The NLA does not ignore these objections, referring to research by, among others, the RIVM.

The inspection calls it “evident” that employees at the airside (near aircraft) are exposed to carcinogenic and mutagenic substances released during carcinogenic processes. Mutagens can damage hereditary material and, in combination with other substances, cause cancer. “The employer cannot disregard its duty of care to avoid or minimize this exposure,” the NLA states.


The Labor Inspectorate demands that Schiphol take measures in the short term to limit the use of aircraft engines around the platforms. Airplanes must be towed longer, further from the gate, before they can use their own engines. The use of the auxiliary engine (auxiliary power unit, APU) are limited. The APU provides power and air conditioning in an aircraft at the gate.

As a result, Schiphol will have to invest more and more quickly in the electrification of its facilities in the coming years. The airport must also impose stricter rules on aircraft departing and arriving. If there is no room at the gate yet, a device must wait outside the so-called ‘green zone’. This is an area around the gates where aircraft emissions are limited.

Trade union FNV wants employees who have become ill due to aircraft emissions to be able to rely on an existing scheme for working with hazardous substances. They are therefore entitled to a one-off financial compensation from the government, according to the association.

In a press statement from the FNV, Gerben de Jong, operational manager at Schiphol and active member of the union, says that he is pleased with the recognition from the Labor Inspectorate. “But a real solution is still pending. Over the years we have lost many colleagues to cancer and heart problems. In retrospect it is difficult to prove that this is due to emissions, but it is now clear that it is far from healthy.”