OSHA Continues to Hound USPS; Vermont Mail Facility the Latest Offender

OSHA has cited the U.S. Postal Service for six alleged willful violations of safety standards following an inspection at the White River Junction Processing and Distribution Center in White River Junction, Vt. The Postal Service faces a total of $420,000 in fines, chiefly for exposing workers to electrical hazards. These latest citations come within a month of the Department of Labor's filing on July 6 of a complaint against the whole U.S. Postal Service for electrical work safety violations. The complaint asked the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission to order USPS to correct electrical violations at 350 facilities. The move was groundbreaking because, according to the department, it marked the first time DOL has sought enterprise-wide relief as a remedy. (Read more about that complaint here.)

The agency’s inspection at the White River Junction facility began Jan. 30, 2010, in response to worker complaints. Inspectors found untrained or unqualified employees at the distribution center routinely performing troubleshooting, servicing, voltage testing, and maintenance on or near live electrical equipment, such as mail sorting and cancelling machines. The machines had not first been de-energized and the workers lacked personal protective equipment and insulated tools, and they were not provided electrical lockout/tagout procedures to use.

"The conditions cited here exposed workers to the swift and potentially deadly hazards of electric shock, arc flashes, and arc blasts," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. "This large fine reflects both the gravity of these hazards and the Postal Service's ongoing knowledge of and failure to correct them."

As a result of its inspection, OSHA has issued six willful citations to USPS for the conditions at the White River Junction facility. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health.

USPS has 15 business days from receipt of its latest citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with the OSHA area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. This inspection was conducted by OSHA's area office in Concord, N.H.

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