The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has charged the USPS in Providence, RI with 12 willful and serious safety violations, and ordered it to pay fines of $558,000. The Postal Service “ignored long-established safety standards and knowingly put its workers in harm’s way,” OSHA said. The violations “exposed workers at the Providence facility to the serious and potentially fatal hazards of shock, electrocution and arc-flash.
The citations [PDF] substantiate charges levied by the APWU regarding the Postal Service’s failure to adhere to OSHA standards for electrical safety. The Postal Service has 15 days to respond.
“These sizable fines reflect the severity and ongoing nature of these hazards,” Dr. David Michaels, OSHA assistant secretary, said in a press release. Inspectors found untrained or unqualified workers performing tests on live electrical equipment at the Providence Processing & Distribution Center, the news release noted, generating eight citations for willful safety violations and fines of $530,000.
The remaining $28,000 in fines were associated with four citations for serious safety violations, including failing to instruct workers on the proper procedures for locking out machines’ power sources to prevent unexpected startup during maintenance and related hazards. The inspection also revealed that personal protective equipment, work practices and warning signs were inadequate, OSHA said.
OSHA inspections were conducted between Nov. 2, 2009, and April 28, 2010, after the Providence Area Local filed a complaint. The local acted in response to a request from national Industrial Relations Director Greg Bell, who sent a letter to local presidents encouraging them to file complaints over the Postal Service’s failure to comply with OSHA’s electrical regulations.
“APWU has made many attempts to discuss and correct known electrical risks and hazards,” Bell wrote to locals on Oct. 22, 2009 [letter, complaint form and instructions for local presidents – PDF]. OSHA conducted inspections of postal facilities in 2007 and 2008 and found violations of various electrical safety standards, he said. “The Postal Service agreed that these hazards existed and entered into informal settlements, but has so far failed to correct the problems.”
To combat the USPS intransigence, the national union developed guidelines and urged locals across the country to file OSHA complaints.
“I commend the Providence Local for their diligent efforts to correct these dangerous hazards,” Bell said. He also praised the efforts of Northeast Region Coordinator John Dirzius, who lent support to the Providence Local and other locals in the region that filed similar charges.
“The Providence Local is the first to generate citations, but many others are in the pipeline,” Bell said.