Clearing sidewalks and streets could potentially save a great deal of pain and suffering for letter carriers and millions of dollars in expenses for the Postal Service, say USPS officials, but the same could be said for any business.
The Postal Service encourages its employees to be extra cautious and employ safe practices when driving or walking in slippery weather. Last winter, the USPS saw injuries to employees from falls more than double over the previous year, largely due to the extreme weather and heavy snowfall, says Tim Fox, the Postal Service's Pittsburgh District safety manager.
That's one of the reasons postal managers ask the public to help clear snow and ice from the carrier's path, whether it is the sidewalk and porch leading to a residential mailbox or the roadway surrounding a curbside box.
Carriers do not have to deliver mail to locations where access is slippery or where boxes are blocked by snow, such as often occurs when rural snow plows do their work, causing a delay in receipt of important mail.
"We ask customers to keep steps and porches clear of snow and ice," Fox says. "And we ask that roadway approaches be cleared so carriers can pull in and out without having to back the vehicle." He says painted porches and steps are particularly hazardous and that salt or rubber-backed mats will help make them less slippery.
Several postal districts are investing in grip-soled overshoes, with sand paper-like bottoms, for use by carriers this year. That was one recommendation of a joint safety taskforce with the National Association of Letter Carriers to help reduce accidents.
Chet Marsh, Eastern Area safety manager for the Postal Service, says what many don't see is the toll that injuries take on employees and their families and the associated costs that arise. "Each one of these fall-related injuries brings pain and suffering and can be life changing events for our employees," Marsh says.
He cites a recent example of a carrier who fell and fractured an arm that required several pins and plates to repair. Another letter carrier recently suffered a severely dislocated shoulder and required on-the-spot medical assistance after taking a fall.
But Marsh says the injuries take a financial toll on the Postal Service as well. "The average fall-related injury costs about $4,100 in medical and compensation expenses," he says. Last winter, injuries from falls cost the Postal Service's Eastern Area alone some $15.5 million.
"Our chief concern is for the safety of our employees," says Marsh. "We ask our customers to help us this winter by ensuring safe access for our carriers as they make their deliveries."
He notes that falls and injuries are a serious problem for other service people as well, such as newspaper carriers, pizza delivery persons, trash collectors, utility representatives and other persons making deliveries. They are a problem for workers entering and leaving facilities on slippery sidewalks or walking through icy parking lots, and for outdoor workers.