Department of Labor Safety Complaint Underscores Widespread, Systemic Violations


The Department of Labor filed a complaint [PDF] against the Postal Service on July 6 for ongoing and systemic violations of safe electrical work practices, marking the first time the department has sought an “enterprise-wide” remedy.

“When the same safety violation is discovered in multiple locations of an organization, we need an enterprise-wide remedy to protect workers from the hazard,” Solicitor of Labor M. Patricia Smith said.

The request for enterprise-wide reliefis based upon the discovery of numerous, similar electrical work safety violations in the course of investigations conducted by the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration of USPS mail processing and distribution facilities across the country,” an OSHA press release said.

“There was a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from the conditions that existed,” the complaint asserted, and USPS knew of the violations, or with the exercise of reasonable diligence, could have known of them.

APWU Director of Industrial Relations Greg Bell said, “We are pleased that the Department of Labor has recognized the serious and widespread nature of the Postal Service’s failure to adhere to electrical safety standards. We will continue to monitor the progress in addressing this issue.”

“The union made many attempts over many years to persuade postal management to correct these deficiencies,” Bell noted. “The USPS stubbornly refused to address the problems. As a result, we advised locals to file formal complaints with OSHA.”

The Department of Labor complaint asks the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission to order the USPS to correct the violations; uphold fines and penalties; conduct training on safe electrical work practices; provide personal protective equipment to affected employees, and withdraw flawed management orders and instructions regarding safe electrical work practices.

“For many years USPS has known of its enterprise-wide failure to comply with OSHA’s electrical safety-related work practices standards,” the complaint says. “Between 2004 and late 2009, USPS failed to institute necessary protective measures for its employees, even though it was aware of ongoing electrical safety problems.” OSHA issued new electrical safety standards in 2004.

The USPS prepared a Management Maintenance Order (MMO) and Management Instruction (MI) regarding safe electrical work practices in 2004, but did not release or implement the MI until Dec. 24, 2009, and did not release or implement the MMO until Feb. 1, 2010.

In the interim the APWU pointed out deficiencies in the policies and procedures outlined in the documents, and urged the Postal Service to correct them. Instead, on March 6, 2006, the USPS issued a memorandum informing managers that it was working to revise its policies. The memo failed to provide information on interim protective measures and instructed managers not to “expend funds on any NFPA [National Fire Protection Association] 70E training or consulting activities.”

The MMO and MI “fail in significant respects to ensure compliance with the requirements of the electrical safety-related work practices standards,” the complaint notes.

Beginning in October 2009, OSHA undertook several dozen inspections — some of which are ongoing — at USPS facilities across the country, and has issued fines and citations at 15 locations.

The Postal Service has 20 business days to answer the complaint.