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Most dangerous federal jobs: Postal service tops list

Sep. 9, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
Anthrax Scare At a Des Plaines, IL. Post Office
Police crime scene tape ropes off a Post Office in Des Plaines, Ill., during an anthrax scare. Postal work is the most dangerous among federal civilian jobs. (Tim Boyle / Getty Images)

On June 29, 62-year-old letter carrier Bruce Deutser was killed when a pickup truck struck his mail truck in Monkton, Md., flipping it over. Another letter carrier, Eddie “Marie” Youngblood, was shot and killed May 17 in Coldspring, Texas.

In terms of federal jobs, postal work is by far the most dangerous: Last year, postal employees constituted a third of all federal civilian employees in the United States who died on the job, according to preliminary numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2012, 54 feds were killed on the job, a sharp jump from 41 in 2011. Postal workers made up 18 of those in 2012, up from 15 in 2011. The numbers include federal civilian employees within the United States and not civilians overseas, such as Foreign Service or intelligence workers, and they exclude employees who died because of an illness or who are military personnel.

For a workforce of about 2.1 million, that works out to roughly one fatality for every 39,000 employees. That compares well to the private sector, which saw 3,945 job-related fatalities in 2012 out of about 112 million people — or about one fatality for every 28,400 workers.

Jim Stanley, former deputy assistant secretary of the Labor Department and safety consultant, said the government has so many employees working in low-risk administrative functions that the fatality rate is much lower compared to the private sector.

Despite that, agencies can do a lot more safety-related training and outreach to improve things. “The way the federal government handles the safety of their employees leaves a lot to be desired,” Stanley said.

He said the jump in fatalities is not part of a larger pattern — it only means that 2012 was worse than 2011.

Jeffrey Williamson, chief human resources officer and executive vice president at the U.S. Postal Service, said the safety and well-being of postal employees is the top priority at the agency. He said the agency strives to ensure employees have the tools and training to perform their duties safely.

“Any loss of the hardworking, dedicated men and women of the Postal Service is a terrible loss to our postal community and to the communities in which our employees serve,” Williamson said.

Jeanette Dwyer, president of the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, said the association works with the Postal Service in teams to help promote safety and work on ways to make employees safer, but that more could be done.

She said there is a greater amount of traffic than in the past, and that is an issue since many letter carriers drive a great deal on their routes. She welcomes more attention on the safety issues that postal workers confront every day.

“Rural carriers have to be alert and aware of danger on their routes,” Dwyer said.

Deaths among law enforcement workers, which include law enforcement officers and criminal investigators, jumped from six in 2011 to 12 in 2012.

Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said recent budget cuts and the effects of sequestration will continue to place law enforcement officers at greater risk as agencies cut training programs and trim down staffs.

Stretching workforces leaves employees overworked and tired, which can lead to accidents and put people at risk, he said. Budget cuts mean agencies cut training efforts that could help reduce injuries and fatalities.

“I point the finger firmly at the appropriators in Congress and at the Office of Management and Budget for failing to put forward a budget that protects law enforcement and public safety,” Adler said.

The causes of the fatalities for 2012 include:

■ 17 acts of violence perpetrated against federal employees, up from nine in 2011.

■ 13 car accidents, the same as in 2011.

■ Seven falls, up from five in 2011.

■ Three deaths from exposure to extreme temperatures. There were none in 2011.

Some agencies have shown progress in reducing worker fatalities.

Workplace fatalities for civilian employees at the Defense Department fell from 15 in fiscal 2007 to seven in 2011 and down to four in 2012, out of about 800,000 employees, according to DoD.

DoD spokesman Mark Wright said leaders across the department work continuously to protect their employees from harm and have made significant improvements in workplace safety by promoting training and by identify possible workplace hazards and working to minimize those risks. The Defense Department also tracks incidents and injuries to identify areas of higher risk.

He said DoD agencies work to reduce risks to employees by changing procedures and by learning from events where employees are injured so that they are not repeated.

He said 49 DoD organizations have been recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for their workplace safety programs and risk management practices.

“However, the only acceptable number of injuries is zero. Our work continues in pursuit of no harm to any employee,” Wright said.

Other occupations that saw fatalities in 2012 include:

■ Eight fatalities in management and science positions, including engineering.

■ Three construction and maintenance fatalities.

■ Four fatalities among transportation and moving employees, including air transportation and ground transportation.

John Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service, said while the American public is aware of and mourns members of the military who died in the course of their duties, civilian employees are often forgotten.

“While ‘bureaucrat bashing’ remains a popular sport among some who denigrate federal employees for their own ideological or political purposes, the fact is that many federal employees willingly put themselves in harm’s way to ensure the safety and welfare of the rest of us,” Palguta said.

Federal contractors also saw 19 fatalities in 2012, up from 11 in 2011, according to BLS.

The contracting occupation with the highest fatality rate was construction and maintenance workers, with 10 deaths in 2012, up from five in 2011.

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