Editorial by Denver, CO Postal Clerk Loyd Reeder
Attached in a PDF link is the NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) Health Hazard Evaluation of the Automatic Flat Sorting 100 machines done in the Denver, Colorado General Mail Facility (GMF). NIOSH was called in by a group of mail handlers with my assistance who actually work on the AFSM 100. This was done INDEPENDENTLY of any union. Please keep in mind that NIOSH is considered to be the very best occupational health expertise in the country, if not the world. They are under the Surgeon General of the United States. If you do not want to read through the full 12 pages of the report an excellent summary is on pages iii and iv of the introduction that reveals some serious problems. Keep in mind that the Denver GMF was cited by OSHA several years ago for gross underreporting of injuries through fear and threat directed by management against workers who report injuries. With the recently implemented National Reassessment Program workers who are permanently injured now face the serious prospect of losing postal employment altogether, unlike in the past when they were given work within their restrictions. It remains to be seen if the USPS with the much needed insistence of the Mail Handlers Union and the American Postal Workers Union will follow NIOSH requirements. This will hopefully not turn into the DBCS disaster where I called in 4 separate NIOSH investigations which the USPS largely ignored.
Highlights of NIOSH Report: “Ergonomic Evaluation of Automatic Flat Sorting Machines – Colorado”
What NIOSH Did
- We evaluated the facility in April 2009.
- We observed employees working on the AFSM machines.
- We also videotaped employees working at the machines so we could examine their work postures.
- We measured workstation heights and reach distances.
- We asked employees about their work and medical history.
- We reviewed occupational safety and health injury and illness logs.
What NIOSH Found
- Employees are at risk for work-related shoulder, arm, wrist, and hand injuries. This risk is due to awkward postures, forceful exertions, and repetitive motions.
- Employees are at risk for work-related back injuries. This risk is due to lifting, twisting movements of the trunk, and bending at the waist.
- Employees reported injuries in their back, shoulders, arms, ists, and hands.
- Employee rotation patterns were inconsistent between tours, machines, and supervisors.
We interviewed a convenience sample of 27 of approximately 175 employees who worked on the AFSMs. The average age was 47 years (range: 32–61). The average duration of employment as mail handlers was 12 years (range: 2–31). Twenty employees reported having a work-related injury (some had more than one) and seven reported no work-related injury. Employees reported seven shoulder injuries; four back; two each of carpal tunnel syndrome, elbow, neck, toe, and wrist injury; and one each of abdomen, cubital tunnel syndrome, eye, finger laceration, stiff fingers, inhalation, and knee injury. Employees also reported understaffing, intimidation by management, fear of discipline or warning for unsafe work practices, hazard reports getting lost, not being able to take a break until packing was done, having to pay for footwear, and feeling guilty about an injury.
Employees are exposed to a combination of risk factors for upper extremity WMSDs (including awkward postures, forceful exertions, and repetitive motions) and risk factors for back injuries (including lifting, twisting movements of the trunk, and bending at the waist). The interviews and OSHA logs confirmed that the most common WMSD injuries were upper extremity and back. Recommendations for reducing the risk of WMSDs are included in this report.
On the basis of our findings, we recommend the actions listed below to create a more healthful workplace. We encourage the facility to use a labor-management health and safety committee or working group to discuss the recommendations in this report and develop an action plan. Those involved in the work can best set priorities and assess the feasibility of our recommendations for the specific situation at the facility. Our recommendations are based on the hierarchy of controls approach. This approach groups actions by their likely effectiveness in reducing or removing hazards. In most cases, the preferred approach is to eliminate hazardous materials or processes and install engineering controls to reduce exposure or shield employees. Until such controls are in place, or if they are not effective or feasible, administrative measures and/or personal protective equipment may be needed.