Initially cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) with $3 million in fines for electrical hazards, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) authorities have now managed to reduce the amount by reaching a settlement with the Department of Labor and the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and agreeing to improve electrical safety in the work environment.
The settlement was a result of negotiations following a series of inspections that were made at 42 Postal Services sites in 2009 and 2010 in response to APWU complaints. OSHA found violations of its electrical safety practices at multiple USPS facilities.
“As a large employer, with a substantial number of affected employees throughout many different types of facilities, the U.S. Postal Service faced many challenges in improving their electrical safe-work program,” says Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health. “In entering this agreement, OSHA recognizes the Postal Service’s commitment and dedication to worker safety.”
USPS was cited for willful and serious electrical safety violations at its various processing, distribution, and bulk mail units across the country. During the inspection, OSHA found violations including:
- Tests performed on live electrical equipment by untrained or unqualified workers
- Insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and warning signs
- Failure to instruct workers on the proper procedures for lockout/tagout of machines
During their investigation from Nov. 2, 2009 to April 28, 2010, the OSHA inspectors found that the procedures were conducted by untrained workers who lacked the knowledge and training to determine if the electrical safety procedures were correctly performed or not.
Eight willful citations totaling proposed fines of $530,000 were issued against USPS in addition to four serious citations. The serious violations totaled a fine of $28,000 after USPS was found ineffective in providing training for locking the machines’ power sources to prevent their unexpected start-up during servicing.
The violations found at USPS facilities resulted in an unprecedented enterprise-wide complaint filed by the Department of Labor, asking the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission to order USPS to correct electrical safety violations at its 350 facilities.
“When the same safety violation is discovered in multiple locations of an organization, we need an enterprise-wide remedy to protect workers from the hazard,” says M. Patricia Smith, Department of Labor solicitor.
The Settlement Agreement
As per the settlement agreement, which covers nationwide postal service facilities, USPS must:
- Revise its written policies and procedures on electrical safety and work
- Prohibit employees from working on electrically energized equipment except for a particular task that requires the equipment, like testing or troubleshooting
- Provide employees with PPE including electrically protective gloves and full-body arc flash protection when working with energized equipments
- Assign a trained electrical work supervisor at each facility
- Re-label electrical equipment with safety warnings and signs
- Implement a nationwide ‘safe work program’
- Audit the implementation of the program and report the results to OSHA, quarterly during the two-year term of the settlement agreement
USPS chief human resources officer and executive vice president Jeffrey Williamson says, “Employee safety has always been a top priority for the Postal Service. We are happy to have resolved this issue amicably and in the best interests of the safety of our employees.”
The historic agreement marks the first ever ‘enterprise-wide’ settlement followed by a rigorous four-year campaign by APWU and OSHA forcing the postal authorities to address electrical safety hazards at its facilities across the country.
Cliff Guffey, president of the APWU and The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) says, “The APWU is pleased to be a part of this landmark commitment to worker safety, which will ensure the protection of postal workers from electrical hazards.”
USPS will now pay $100,000 at signing and a suspended payment of $3 million pending full abatement of the hazards. OSHA will also regularly monitor and evaluate the progress made by the USPS.