OSHA: DBCS Machines Pose Risk to Workers’ Health

Management ‘Lacks Understanding’ of Risks, Agency Concludes

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has hit the Postal Service with another unwelcome finding: Delivery Bar Code Sorter machines pose a direct risk to workers’ health, and there is a “general lack of understanding about the hazards and injuries” associated with the equipment among postal managers.

In a Jan. 4 letter to the Postmaster General, OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels said the agency had received more than 170 complaints alleging that “injuries occurred due to worker exposure to ergonomic stressors” associated with DBCS operation at Processing and Distribution Centers nationwide. The complaints were submitted by APWU locals in response to a request from the national union after the USPS rebuffed union attempts to correct — or even discuss — DBCS hazards.

In response to the complaints, OSHA selected nine sites for inspection as a representative sample. The inspections and ergonomic evaluation “identified generally consistent risk factors at most inspected sites,” the majority of which resulted from the repetitive motions required to operate the DBCS, Michaels wrote.

Hazards included repeated bending and twisting; forceful gripping; lifting heavy weight; shoulder exertions; extended reaches, and forceful pulling and pushing. Other risks included contact trauma, working in awkward postures, and generalized body fatigue.

“OSHA’s findings are an important step toward protecting the safety of APWU members,” said Executive Vice President Greg Bell. “Our members have known about the dangers of working on DBCS machines based on their first-hand experience. I am hopeful that OSHA’s involvement will encourage the Postal Service to correct the problems.”

Ignorance of Risks

According to OSHA’s evaluation, “almost all managers assigned to Tour 1 and 3 indicated ignorance of any risks associated with performing DBCS tasks. This severely limits the opportunity for improvement in the workplace since there isn’t a basic knowledge of the hazards or even the process,” OSHA reported. “Additionally, many of the decision making managers work Tour 2 while almost all production work is done on Tour 1 and 3.

“It will be very difficult to address problems when management at all levels, especially safety personnel, work a significant portion of the time on the shifts where the majority of the work is not performed.”

OSHA also reported that supervisors have ignored injury complaints; encouraged clerks to “work through” the pain, or have discouraged the reporting of injuries. “This fosters a perceived ‘lack of caring’ about the worker,” the agency reported.

OSHA conducted inspections at P&DCs in Seattle, WA; Orlando, FL; Madison, WI; West Columbia, SC; Pittsburgh, PA; Providence, RI; Mankato, MN; Wareham, MA, and Chicago, IL.

“Not all risk factors were identified at every facility at the time of our visit,” Michaels noted, “but the underlying potential seemed to be present at all sites because of the similarity of equipment and job tasks.”

OSHA noted that it would provide a copy of the report to each site for which the agency received a complaint regarding DBCS operations, as well as a detailed, site-specific Ergonomic Hazard Alert Letter (EHAL). The report includes guidelines to aid in eliminating or reducing the risks present in the Feeder and Sweeper tasks, Michaels wrote. “We strongly suggest you utilize the information provided in the technical report and the P&DC site specific EHALs to aid in eliminating or reducing the risks present in the Feeder and Sweeper tasks.”

The DBCS report was the second dose of bad news the USPS received from OSHA on Jan. 4. The agency also issued the Postal Service 37 citations that day for under-recording workplace injuries and illnesses. In recent months, inspections revealed 242 instances of recordkeeping violations at 10 postal facilities.

17 thoughts on “OSHA: DBCS Machines Pose Risk to Workers’ Health

  1. A union rep gave me an article to read from the postal reporters news blog titled:
    OSHA: DBCS Machines Pose Risk to Workers
    Jan 14, 2011

    I figured I may as well put in my two cents worth. When our facility began acquiring the 4 level DBCS’s, we were all shown a training video. None of the other employees who were still in our unit remember a certain thing that was said. I asked maintenance if they remember anything on the subject or if they could find anything on the subject. They couldn’t. I requested that we be shown the video again but it never happened.

    We were told several years back that we were not to let the stackers become3/4 full and to sweep them out before they reached 3/4 full because it would now be showing on the paperwork. This supposedly was a nationwide thing. Personally, I have no problem with this as I tend to keep my stackers as clean as possible.

    However, it did irritate me mainly because in the training video that we had been shown years before I remember the video mentioning that the DBCS could cause muscular skeletal problems and therefore we should work with minimal movement which included waiting until the stackers were 3/4 full before sweeping them.

    Although I fail to remember a lot of things, this stuck in my mind. I suppose because I saw it as a rather peculiar thing to say. If you have 100 or 200 or however many stackers and they end up 3/4 full around the same time, there is no way those stackers can all be swept before one of them becomes full.

    It wasn’t long before things were back to usual and everyone swept in the manner that they felt comfortable with. The issue of how to sweep and when to sweep was basically dropped and forgotten. However, the article the union person gave to me to read (this article) brought the old memories back.

    Personally, I found it rather strange that the video training film would say one thing and then management would completely reverse what had once been said. With 25 years in the post office, all of them on OCR/BCS/DBCS and all those acronymic titles given to these machines I was also surprised about one other thing… the fact that I was surprised at all. by now I should be very well aware of the fact that what is important with the post office today is forgotten tomorrow and if we are told we are no longer going to be doing such and such because it is not the correct way to do the procedure, within a few days management will turn around and tell us to do it the way they had just told us not to do it. At the post office, the rules and standards seem to be constantly flip flopping. But I am beginning to understand that is the postal way.


  3. The phrase “, many of the decision making managers work Tour 2” is typical. I work a station. Almost all supervisors are useless anymore. They are just fall guys when things go wrong after being told what to do. All decisions are made remotely based on some report or piece of paper that give no indications of the circumstances at the site. All of the supervisors duties could be done by a clerk, since all they do is data entry, and most of the supervisors could be done away with, all you need is a fax machine and a speaker phone to run a station

  4. Hope OSHA knows that these honest but futile evaluations on job conditions will NOT change anything unless someone higher up on the chain actually DOES something. With my experience working with these darned machines my skin has become like jagged rocks and the excruciating pain is unbearable! All the while my supervisors give me warning about slowing down, taking a breath etc. So I hope that someone will please do something about these working conditions because there is a lot that could be done if the supervisors didn’t sit on their lazy asses all day laughing at us, because I can’t bear to come home to my kids and see them cry about how my skin is rough or how I can’t move because of my back pain. I’m a middle aged mother and yet I feel like I’ve aged a dozen years. Please, there are other employees that are suffering too, how are we supposed to work well if our bodies are constantly abused just because we have no choice and choose to support our family no matter what? Most of us working here don’t have much but our family motivates us, but even so we are humans not some expendable machine.

  5. NIOSH suggested in 1993 that the feeder & sweeper rotate. That’s pretty much impossible now days, since there’s only one operator per machine on 1/3rd of the 40 DBCS’s where I work. Pretty soon there will be only one operator on all the DBCS machines. You can’t rotate when there’s no one to rotate with!

  6. will everyone be happy when they automate the feeder and sweeper and there is no longer a need for you? Work at your own pace and you will not get hurt, there is no standard speed at which you must work.

  7. Please keep in mind that this is not the first time that the hazards if this machine have been identified nor is it the first time that OSHA has cited these machines. Unfortunately, as you may read in the links provided in the Postal Reporter article(NIOSH Reports On DBCS at Denver Postal Facility), it is now probably too late to do anything substantive since the USPS has already spent billions on these machines. The time for the APWU to have acted was with the release of my first NIOSH investigation in 1993, BEFORE the major contract for these machines was awarded. The major reason the USPS bought these machines in the first place, as always, was to cut costs through “greater depth of sort”. I think the future holds even more automation on these machines and the eventual elimination of human operators. This will be based solely on the bottom line, in other words cost.. Loyd Reeder, former DBCS clerk in Denver.

  8. Most of these DBCS machines are manufactured by the German conglomerate Siemens…..They were the electricians for the Nazis during WW2….Do you really think they care about human ergonomics? They were significant contractors at the death camps including Auchwitz….history repeating itself?…..I’ve heard the European machines are not as high as the American machines. Postal management has much in common with Nazi leadership. It manages through lies, harassment, intimidation, arrogance , and ignorance.

  9. Bedazzed you sure do sound like management!
    The repetitive injuries wouldn’t be so prevalent if clerks were rotated more often. No one should sweep for more than an hour or two.

    Yes, other jobs are repetitive but none of them require such constant fast-paced movement as trying to keep 200+ stackers clear (especially on BBM letters).

    Another health issue is the paper fuzz that floats everywhere because there are no exhaust fans above the DBCS.

  10. I am a Mail Handler, but if I were a Clerk assigned to work the DBCS, I’d flat REFUSE citing SAFETY and immediately begin filling out 1767’s, filing Step 2 Safety Grievances via the Safety Captain and/or the APWU Steward; aside from the other issue of ergonomics, bending , and twisitng, etc. I’d cite mere CONGESTED AREA.

  11. Everyone knows that these machines have been a problem, the as we all know the bosses don’t care as long as the mail gets out. It’s to bad that nothing was said about the noise levels. I have had rininging in the ears for a long time now and I am slowly losing my hearing. I have been retire since 2006 do to serious illness that prevents me from working on those machines. I asked the PO at Rochester, NY about a different position and they suggested retirement since I could no longer do my job. Everything at the PO went well till automation came into the picture. If mail volumes are truely down why do we need all those machines. We got the mail out on time before machines and we could do it again with less injuries.

  12. aside from the obvious faults with the dbcs ( i worked it shortly and bitched to no avial) i think was is just as wrong and upsetting is the fact i mean FACT that supv and managers A) dont know anything about the machines
    B) are oblivious to the faults of the machines
    C) dont give a shit about workers and injuries
    D) even when told by workers that the machine is screwed up to
    work on
    E) even after this report was submitted machines are still in use
    i assume??
    F) these same supv/managers couldnt do the job themselves so
    they became bosses. of course thats the prob thruout the po
    unless osha has the power to shut them down and correct the problems then the report is useless.

  13. I worked on DBCS for 6 years, 70 % of my co-worker have some kinds of multi-part of body pain as the OSHA report mentioned, USPS installed DBCS for 20 years, too many employees suffered for years, most of us never claim job injury because we see people get so much preasure from management. We need this job to support the family, so we take pain medicine, use heating pad….

    OSHA can ask manager , supervisor or decision maker to work on DBCS 5 days straight , They will know DBCS is so harmful for human body.

  14. How does OSHA expect the mail to get up on the ledge?? The type of containers that are used in the Postal Service only allow you to get mail out of them one way—bending in to remove trays and hods. I guess when they find non-humans to do it, that will be something else to complain about. Really people, how else is the mail coming out of the equipment?? Just asking…

  15. I work on the DBCS on Tour-1 at the (SCPDC) Southern Connecticut Processing and Distribution Center and myself work with 2 wrist supports and 2 arm supports near the elbow to help prevent strain and injury to myself. I,m sure if OSHA would make a visit at our facility at 24 Research Parkway Wallingford Ct. 06492, that a lot of my co-workers would add to the complaints you have already received regarding the DBCS.

    Concerned Employee

  16. they didn’t see employees unloading pallets, pulling mail from the top of pie carts and supervisors sitting around watching you work, laughing at you because they don’t have to do it and when you tell them i am really in pain they say just get back to work.

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