Qantas has been blasted by the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) for unsafe work practices after a worker was gouged in the eye by a falcon.
The attack took place on Tuesday last week in a Qantas Sydney Airport hanger, where many peregrine falcons have been living for the past 20 years, a spokesperson for the airline told Travel Weekly.
“Aircraft hangars make attractive homes for large birds due to their height and plenty of space to roost,” the spokesperson said.
“This is the first incident that we’ve had and we’re making sure employees who work in and around the hangar are reminded of the falcons’ presence.”
The spokesperson said the birds are a protected species and the airline works with wildlife groups like WIRES so they can live alongside the aircraft.
The birds actually play an important role in the hanger, hunting vermin and other birds that may get into aircraft engines, according to the airline.
The TWU confirmed the worker sustained injuries to his head, face and “may lose sight in one eye”.
“Qantas has a responsibility to ensure the safety of their workers at Sydney Airport,” Richard Olsen, state secretary for TWU said in a statement provided to Travel Weekly.
“TWU members are not aware of any communication from Qantas about the possible unsafe work environment that the presence of these birds creates.
“Members now fear for their personal safety if they are required to enter the hangars where these birds reside.”
Olsen clarified that TWU members are not calling for the birds to be removed, but for the airline to have the aircraft cleaned before they are moved to the particular hanger where the birds of prey roost and hunt.
The airline has issued a notice to employees advising the worker was attacked because he was in the vicinity of the bird’s food source and that falcons have greater activity during their breeding cycle from September through to November.
Qantas also advised safety eyewear and a “bump cap” must be worn whilst in the hanger.
Rob Crawford, a WIRES volunteer who specialises in birds of prey told the Guardian that he has been assisting the airport with the falcons for years.
“There have been incidents. We’ve heard of them swooping, and that is completely normal behaviour for them. We’ve heard stories from the Qantas guys that they have been swooped before, maybe one has been scratched,” Crawford said, adding that the chances of further injuries were “very, very slim” if workers wore eyeglasses and hats.
“It’s generally not too much of a big deal. The birds don’t care about humans for nine months of the year. For the three months, they have chicks and fledglings they tend to be defensive.
“The staff love these birds, they are their friends, their colleagues. They perform quite the service. A pair of peregrines will take at least one pigeon a day – those peregrines are responsible of clearing out hundreds of feral pigeons from the airport. It’s actually a service to the greater good for the whole facility.”