The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) have agreed to terms of a settlement that will improve safety in postal facilities across the country. The settlement follows negotiations stemming from inspections at 42 Postal Service sites in 2009 and 2010 that found violations of OSHA standards on electrical work practices. USPS contested the citations, and OSHA then sought enterprise-wide relief before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

"As a large employer, with a substantial number of affected employees throughout many different types of facilities, the U.S. Postal Service faced many challenges in improving their electrical safe-work program," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "In entering this agreement, OSHA recognizes the Postal Service's commitment and dedication to worker safety."

As part of the settlement, which covers all Postal Service facilities nationwide, including processing and distribution centers and post offices, USPS has revised its written policies and procedures on electrical work, prohibiting workers from working on electrically energized equipment except for a defined set of tasks that can only be performed while equipment is energized, such as troubleshooting and testing. To ensure compliance with these electrical safety policies, USPS will assign a trained electrical work plan coordinator at each facility. In addition, USPS will provide and require the use of electrically protective gloves and full body arc flash protection for energized work, including voltage testing.

"Employee safety has always been a top priority for the Postal Service," said Jeffrey Williamson, USPS chief human resources officer and executive vice president. "We are happy to have resolved this issue amicably and in the best interests of the safety of our employees."

USPS has also agreed to audit the implementation of the electrical safe-work program at all maintenance-capable facilities, and report the results in detail to OSHA quarterly during the two-year term of the agreement. In addition, OSHA will meet with the Postal Service on a regular basis to discuss the results of OSHA monitoring inspections and USPS audits, as well as any concerns or problems encountered. Also, USPS will retrain all employees performing electrical work to comply with OSHA requirements for electrical work. Supervisors and affected employees also will receive additional training on electrical safe-work practices.

Cliff Guffey, president of the APWU, AFL-CIO, said, "The APWU is pleased to be a part of this landmark commitment to worker safety, which will ensure the protection of postal workers from electrical hazards."

Under the settlement, the Postal Service has agreed to pay $100,000 at signing and a suspended payment of $3 million pending full abatement of the hazards. OSHA will monitor the Postal Service's progress toward abatement and evaluate that progress against negotiated milestones.

For more information on this topic, see EC&M’s article, “Willful and Serious Violations.”