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OSHA seeks groundbreaking "enterprise wide relief" against U.S. Postal Service

January 3, 2011

For the first time ever, OSHA is pursuing an "enterprise-wide relief" as a remedy for alleged electrical work safety violations. The enterprise in question? The United States Postal Service.

The complaint by the U.S. Department of Labor asks the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission to order the U.S.P.S. to correct electrical violations at all its facilities nationwide, according to a recent OSHA press release. The action comes on the heels of inspections of two separate U.S.P.S. facilities -- in Massachusets and Georgia -- that resulted in numerous citations for safety violations and a total of $290,000 in fines.

The inspection at the Central Massachusetts Processing and Distribution Center in Shrewsbury, MA, came in response to an employee complaint and began on June 29, 2010. It was conducted by OSHA's Springfield Area Office in Massachusetts, which found that unqualified employees at the Shrewsbury location were allowed to work on and test energized electrical circuits and equipment. In addition, electrical equipment had not been de-energized prior to maintenance being performed, and employees were not supplied with insulated tools and equipment.

These conditions resulted in the issuance of three willful citations, with $210,000 in proposed fines. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

OSHA also issued the Postal Service four serious citations, with $28,000 in fines, for lack of employee training in safety-related electrical work practices, lack of personal protective equipment, inadequate voltage meters and failing to perform periodic inspections of the Shrewsbury facility's energy control procedures. OSHA issues serious citations when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

"These sizable fines reflect the Postal Service's knowledge of and failure to address these hazards," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. "For years, the Postal Service knew that allowing untrained employees to work on electrical equipment exposed workers to serious injury or worse. Despite this knowledge, the Postal Service did not take the necessary steps to change its practices and eliminate the hazards."

For safety violations found during an inspection at its facility on Boggs Road in Duluth, Georgia, the U.S.P.S. is being cited with five repeat violations carrying proposed penalties of $75,000. The violations include deficiencies involving lockout/tagout to prevent accidental start-up of machinery; permitting material to be stored in front of the electrical and circuit breaker panel; having unused openings on electrical, fire and receptacle boxes; using flexible cords instead of fixed wiring; and missing the electrical strain prevention clamp on the dock lights. A repeat violation is issued when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years.

The Postal Service is also being cited with two serious violations with proposed penalties of $5,000 for failing to mark exits visibly and having broken dock lights that exposed electrical wiring. A serious citation is issued when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

"This inspection points to the need for employers to develop, implement and maintain programs that ensure hazards such as were noted here are corrected, and that employee exposure to these hazards is eliminated," said Bill Fulcher, director of OSHA's Atlanta-East Area Office.