OSHA: U.S. Postal Service Not Delivering on Safety at Capitol Heights Facility

July 22, 2010
OSHA has cited the U.S. Postal Service for workplace safety violations related to electrical hazards found at the Capitol Heights Processing and Distribution Center and is proposing penalties totaling $272,000.

“These citations and sizable fines reflect the Postal Service’s failure to equip its workers with the necessary knowledge and skills to safely work with live electrical parts,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. “The Postal Service knew that proper and effective training was needed for the safety of its workers but did not provide it.”

OSHA initiated an inspection in January 2010 in response to a complaint alleging the hazards. Inspectors cited the Postal Service with four willful violations carrying a penalty of $265,000 and one serious violation with a penalty of $7,000.

The willful violations include inadequate training for workers exposed to electrical hazards, failing to provide electrical protective equipment to protect workers from arc-flash hazards and electrical current and failing to use appropriate safety signs, safety symbols or accident prevention tags to warn employees about electrical hazards. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health.

The serious violation includes the facility’s failure to provide voltage-rated tools. OSHA issues a serious citation when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.

In January 2010, the Postal Service began implementing an electrical work plan to enhance its safe electrical work practices for employees, and a spokesperson said the Postal Service believes this plan meets OSHA standards. The plan provides for electrical risk assessments, training, personal protective equipment, enhanced safe electrical work practices and insulated tools.

As a result of the plan, the Postal Service already has invested more than $5 million in 123,000 hours of training for nearly 20,000 maintenance employees. According to the spokesperson, the Postal Service is in the process of distributing more than $2 million in protective safety gear to maintenance employees. In situations where items are on back order from its national suppliers, local USPS management is in the process of purchasing items locally. A sampling of the nearly $2 million in protective gear includes safety glasses, voltage rated gloves, lab coats, coveralls and face shields.

The Postal Service has 15 business days from receipt of its citations to comply, meet with the OSHA area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor has filed an enterprise-wide complaint against the U.S. Postal Service for electrical work safety violations. The complaint asks the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission to order the USPS to correct electrical violations at all its facilities nationwide. This complaint marks the first time OSHA has sought enterprise-wide relief as a remedy.

“The Postal Service places the safety and well being of its employees as a top priority,” said a statement received from the USPS. “The Bureau of Labor statistics validate that the Postal Service works twice as safe as other delivery organizations. The National Safety Council recognized more than 5,800 of our employees for driving 1 million miles without an accident. No other business comes close. The Council's 2009 Safe Driver of the Year award was presented to one of our dedicated employees who drove 2 million accident free miles.”

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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