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Labor Department orders electrical fixes at 350 postal facilities

Jul. 7, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
The Labor Department is ordering electrical safety fixes at 350 U.S. Postal Service facilities.
The Labor Department is ordering electrical safety fixes at 350 U.S. Postal Service facilities. (PAUL J. RICHARDS / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE)

After citing electrical hazards at 16 postal facilities since October, the Labor Department filed a complaint this week to order the U.S. Postal Service to fix problems at some 350 processing and distribution centers nationwide.

"When the same safety violation is discovered in multiple locations of an organization, we need an enterprisewide remedy to protect workers from the hazard," the department's solicitor, Patricia Smith, said in a news release.

While the request for such broad-based relief is a first, the Labor Department "will seek other opportunities to utilize this remedy," Smith said.

In a written response, Postal Service spokesman Mark Saunders said that officials will review the concerns and "make necessary adjustments to continue to ensure a safe working environment for our employees." Employee safety and well-being is a "top priority," Saunders said, adding that government statistics confirm that the Postal Service "works twice as safe as other delivery organizations."

But, according to the complaint, at least eight Postal Service employees have been hurt in "electrical arc flash/blast accidents" during the last decade. The Postal Service has also been hit with 29 citations related to electrical safety work practices standards, including one violation that caused a death, the complaint continues. Although a Postal Service team in 2006 drafted a policy aimed at fostering compliance with those standards, the policy was not released or implemented until some three years later.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration a branch of the Labor Department has cited 16 processing and distribution centers for electrical violations since October. In one case involving a Providence, R.I., facility, the Postal Service has signaled plans to contest both the citations and a total of $558,000 in possible fines.

Among other sanctions, the Labor Department is asking the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission to uphold the citations and proposed fines and order the Postal Service to conduct annual inspections on electrical safety compliance issues at each of the processing and distribution centers for the next five years.

The three-member commission is charged with deciding disputes between the department and employers. Under procedures outlined on the panel's website, the complaint will first go to an administrative law judge. The commission then hears any appeals.

A spokeswoman for the American Postal Workers Union, which has been tracking the recent OSHA citations on its website, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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