Editorial by Loyd Reeder
Postal employees in Denver requested NIOSH to investigate the flat mail sorting machines in Denver and NIOSH initiated an investigation in April, 2009. NIOSH is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a federal agency which is part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the Department of Health and Human Services. It is widely considered to be the very best occupational health expertise in the country.
Denver FSM 100 flat sorting machine workers have recently had an extremely high rate of injuries. The machines are poorly designed and ergonomically unsafe. There has been severe understaffing of the machines causing stress and overwork. Employees are pushed to work too fast. Machines are set to overload mail containers, causing excessive strain on workers. Repetitive motion injuries are prevalent due to doing the same tasks thousands of times each day. Workers were not supplied sharp cutting knives daily, causing excessive hand and wrist strain. Injured workers are harassed. There is a culture of intimidation. Workers have been required to work involuntary overtime. The flats sorting unit has less than 8% of the building’s workers but the USPS reported that these flats machine workers had nearly half (47%) of all Musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) injuries in the two-thousand-employee facility.
125 Denver flats workers asked NIOSH to come to the facility to study the situation and suggest changes. Two NIOSH professionals came in early April to evaluate the situation. They interviewed dozens of employees and made video tapes of workers working at the various tasks on the flats sorting machines. The US Postal Service brought in over a dozen of its own safety, health, maintenance, specialists and managers from the local, area, and national levels for the NIOSH investigation. At the end of the visit, the NIOSH investigators gave some preliminary conclusions, said they may return for a second visit, and would issue a final report in one to two years.
In the summer, NIOSH contacted a lead representative of the workers who had originally asked NIOSH to come to the facility. The NIOSH investigators wanted to return to the Denver facility and bring with them an industrial psychologist who wanted to do a job satisfaction survey of the workers. The worker representative gave permission for this project. NIOSH also contacted the local union representative for the mail handler craft who also gave permission for this visit. NIOSH sought permission for the survey from the local safety officer of the USPS in Denver. There has been a long wait for a reply from the USPS management.
In September NIOSH informed the workers that the USPS Western Area Safety Manager Karen Keuter, is “opting not to participate in the survey that we had suggested.” So much for all of the USPS claims that it wants to hear the “voice of the employee”. The USPS spends millions of dollars for its own employee surveys but refuses to let an independent federal agency do its own survey. What is the Postal Service trying to hide?