Details of the investigation and the reason for OSHA's action, as reported by Occupational Health and Safety are as follows:
The investigation raises further questions about the condition of Postal Service facilities and equipment given the budgetary pressure to extend the life of all physical assets and operating equipment. The specific problem raise some questions about the design of the dock in Nashville and whether the dock and equipment used to move rolling containers off and on vehicles could use an upgrade to reduce injuries and improve the efficiency of loading and unloading vehicles.
Prior to this investigation, the focus of OSHA has been on issues with electrical systems and maintenance of those systems. After completing investigations at 30 facilities in 2010, OSHA fined the Postal Service $6.2 million for what it described as “willful and serious” electrical safety violations. Electrical Construction & Maintenance (EC&M) magazine in its January 2011 cover story indicated that "even more citations expected in the coming months." The article estimates that "the total in proposed fines could exceed $10 million."
The EC&M article provides a useful summary of 29 of the investigations that generated fines in 2010. (EC&M's summary is presented at the bottom of this post for convenience to readers.) As a group, the cases illustrate how financial challenges have resulted in short cuts that may reduce immediate spending but result in even greater costs in the future.
Fixing the problems that are generating OSHA finds require capital spending to fix and/or replace facilities; increased operating expenses to replace non-capitalized operating equipment and supplies, and increasing spending on safety training of employees that work with aging electricity dependent sortation and other equipment. Given that the Postal Service will have trouble making payroll this year, finding the cash to cover these expenses is unlikely any time soon unless it delays other investments designed to cut costs, improve service or increase revenue.
• April 29, 2010 — Providence, R.I.: OSHA cited USPS for alleged willful and serious violations of safety standards. Proposed fines, chiefly for electrical and lockout/tagout of energy startup hazards, total $558,000.
• April 30, 2010 — Denver: OSHA’s inspection found that employees were performing testing on live electrical equipment and doing so without adequate training, personal protective equipment (PPE), and safety-related work practices. OSHA issued three willful citations. In addition, one serious citation ($7,000 in fines) was issued for failure to post warning signs to alert employees of electrical hazards. “USPS was aware of the hazardous electrical conditions but did not correct them in a timely manner to prevent potential serious injuries,” says Greg Baxter, OSHA regional administrator in Denver. The violations total $210,000 in proposed fines.
• May 5, 2010 — Bedford Park, Ill.: OSHA’s inspection, which began in November 2009, found that USPS failed to provide required electrical safety training for its workers; to ensure they used safety-related work practices while working on electrical equipment; and to provide workers with appropriate PPE while working on energized equipment. OSHA cited USPS with three alleged willful violations, which total $210,000 in proposed fines.
• May 24, 2010 — Anaheim, Calif.: Proposed fines total $11,050.
• May 24, 2010 — Las Vegas: Proposed fines total $10,625.
• May 24, 2010 — Bell, Calif.: Proposed fines total $18,425.
• June 3, 2010 — Philadelphia: OSHA cited USPS for workplace safety violations related to electrical hazards found at two Philadelphia facilities. OSHA’s inspections found inadequately trained employees performing work without the proper PPE while being exposed to live parts. OSHA cited the network distribution center with four willful violations with a proposed penalty of $280,000. The processing and distribution center was cited for three willful violations with a penalty of $210,000 and one serious violation with a penalty of $7,000. “The Postal Service’s disregard for workplace safety standards has left workers at these facilities exposed to unnecessary dangers, including electric shock, electrocution, fires, and explosions,” says Al D’Imperio, director of OSHA’s Philadelphia Area Office. Combined proposed penalties total $497,000.
• June 7, 2010 — Baton Rouge, La.: Postal employees were found working on energized equipment without protective gear and were exposed to potential electrocution from live machinery. Proposed fines total $97,500.
• June 8, 2010 — Pittsburgh: OSHA initiated an inspection in October 2009 and discovered four willful violations carrying a penalty of $265,000; one repeat violation, with a penalty of $25,000; and two serious violations with a penalty of $9,500. The willful violations include inadequate training for employees exposed to electrical hazards, failure to provide electrical protective equipment to protect employees from arc flash hazards and electrical current, and failure to use appropriate safety signs, safety symbols, or accident prevention tags to warn employees about electrical hazards. The repeat violation is due to the facility’s failure to use approved covers for electrical junction boxes. The serious violations include the use of an unapproved junction box in a wet and damp location and a failure to provide voltage-rated tools. Proposed penalties total $299,500.
• June 16, 2010 — Portland, Ore.: OSHA’s inspection found workers were performing tests on live electrical equipment and doing so without adequate PPE, safety-related work practices and warning signs, as well as working on equipment that had not first been de-energized. As a result of these conditions, OSHA issued one willful citation with a proposed fine of $70,000. In addition, two serious citations with $7,500 in fines have been issued for failure to adequately lock out machines’ power sources to prevent unexpected startup during servicing and for inadequate insulation on electric cables. “The Postal Service disregarded basic electrical safety practices, which left workers at this facility exposed to unnecessary risk of serious injury,” says Richard S. Terrill, OSHA regional administrator in Seattle. Proposed fines total $77,500.
• June 23, 2010 — Belleville, Ill.: Proposed fines total $2,925.
• June 25, 2010 — Scarborough, Me.: An inspection, which began in December 2009, uncovered employees working with or near live electrical equipment without adequate training or qualifications, PPE, safety-related work practices, and warning signs. In addition, OSHA found that access to electrical panels was blocked in several instances by materials being stored adjacent to them. Proposed fines total $430,000.
• June 25, 2010 — St. Paul, Minn.: Inspectors found employees working on live machinery without proper equipment or training, exposing them to the risk of electric shock. Proposed fines total $210,000.
• July, 1, 2010 — Capitol Heights, Md.: OSHA initiated an inspection in January 2010 in response to a complaint alleging the hazards. Inspectors cited four willful violations and one serious violation. 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. Proposed penalties total $272,000.
• July 9, 2010 — Simi Valley, Calif.: Proposed fines total $13,175.
• July 22, 2010 — White River Junction, Vt.: OSHA’s inspection, which began in January 2010, found untrained or unqualified employees routinely performing troubleshooting, servicing, voltage testing, and maintenance on or near live electrical equipment, such as mail sorting and canceling machines. The machines had not first been de-energized, the workers lacked PPE, and insulated tools were not provided to perform electrical lockout/tagout procedures. OSHA cited six alleged willful violations of safety standards. Proposed fines total $420,000, chiefly for exposing workers to electrical hazards.
• July 26, 2010 — Boston: OSHA’s inspection, which began Jan. 28, 2010, found that employees, including mechanics and technicians working with or near live electrical equipment or parts, such as bar code readers and elevator control panels, were not provided with adequate training, safe electrical work practices, required PPE, or insulated tools. These conditions exposed the workers to the hazards of electric shock, arc flashes, and arc blasts — and resulted in OSHA issuing five willful citations. OSHA also found that the Boston facility failed to have an authorized person conduct periodic inspections of its energy control procedures to prevent the unexpected startup of machinery during maintenance. This situation resulted in one serious citation ($7,000 fine). “These citations and sizable fines reflect both the gravity of the hazards identified during this inspection and USPS’ knowledge of and systemic failure to address these hazards,” says Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels. “The dangers of electric shock, burns and explosions were real, present, and ongoing. USPS must take comprehensive and aggressive action to correct these conditions once and for all.” Total proposed fines reached $357,000.
• Sept. 2, 2010 — Binghamton, N.Y.: OSHA issued citations for several serious safety violations, including lack of sufficient access and working space in front of some circuit breaker panels to permit ready/safe operation and maintenance of the equipment, as well as employees performing troubleshooting on or near energized circuits who were not provided with proper protective equipment. Proposed fines total $8,000.
• Aug. 11, 2010 — Dayton, Ohio: OSHA’s inspection, which began in April 2010, found that USPS failed to provide adequate electrical safety training, ensure that workers followed safety-related work practices while working on electrical equipment, provide workers with appropriate PPE while working on energized electrical equipment, address machine lockout procedures and hazards, and provide proper lockout/tagout training. OSHA issued citations for three alleged willful and six alleged serious violations. Proposed fines total $225,000.
• Aug. 19, 2010 — Portsmouth, N.H.: OSHA inspectors issued five alleged willful violations of safety standards following an inspection that found untrained or inadequately trained employees performing troubleshooting and voltage testing on or near live electrical equipment and wiring that had not first been de-energized. The workers also lacked PPE and were not instructed on proper electrical lockout/tagout procedures. USPS faces a total of $350,000 in proposed fines, chiefly for exposing workers to electrical hazards.
• Sept. 19, 2010 — Sharonville, Ohio: OSHA issued the three citations after inspectors found that USPS failed to provide employees working on electrically energized equipment with adequate training and protective equipment, exposing them to the risk of electric shock. Proposed fines total $210,000.
• August 27, 2010 — Kansas City, Kan.: The inspection revealed seven alleged repeat and 21 alleged serious violations. “There is no excuse for the lack of attention to the work environment that resulted in a multitude of violations, including seven repeat violations,” says Charles Adkins, OSHA’s regional administrator in Kansas City, Mo. “It is imperative that employers take the necessary steps to eliminate hazards and provide a safe working environment for all of their employees to prevent accidents from occurring.” OSHA has proposed $191,000 in penalties against the facility.
• Oct. 12, 2010 — Columbus, Ohio: OSHA inspectors issued five citations, after they found USPS failed to properly train employees on safe electrical work practices and provide them with proper protective equipment when working on live machinery. USPS also failed to use proper procedures to prevent electrical parts from being inadvertently energized. Proposed fines total $210,000.
• Oct. 12, 2010 — Huntington, W.Va.: OSHA issued citations for failure to properly train employees assigned to work on electrical equipment and failure to provide workers with protective equipment. USPS also failed to use lockout procedures on machinery to prevent electrical parts from being inadvertently energized. USPS faces proposed fines totaling $212,500 for willfully exposing employees to electrical safety hazards.
• Nov. 17, 2010 — Bluefield, W.Va.: OSHA inspectors issued four citations after finding USPS failed to label electrical cabinets, properly train postal employees, use proper safety practices when exposing employees to live machinery, and provide adequate PPE. An additional serious violation was issued for allowing an unauthorized employee to perform inspections at the facility. Proposed fines total $287,000.
• Nov. 18, 2010 — Los Angeles: OSHA inspectors issued the USPS 18 citations after finding that USPS failed to properly train postal employees or provide them with adequate safety equipment, and live machinery was not properly de-energized, exposing employees to the risk of electric shock. Other violations included failure to maintain clean and orderly working conditions, maintain fixed metal ladders and guardrails, keep aisles and passageways clear, and properly mark circuit breakers. Proposed fines total $220,000.
• Dec. 29, 2010 — Shrewsbury, Mass.: OSHA inspectors found that the USPS failed to properly train postal employees or provide them with adequate safety equipment, and live machinery was not properly de-energized, exposing employees to the risk of electric shock. The facility also lacked proper voltage meters, and the USPS failed to perform periodic checks on energy control procedures. Proposed fines total $238,000.
• Dec. 29, 2010 — Duluth, Ga.: OSHA inspectors found no safeguards to prevent accidental startup of machinery, material was stored in front of electrical and circuit breaker panels, electrical boxes had unused openings, and there was exposed electrical wiring. Proposed fines total $80,000.