Personal Injury

OSHA hits U.S. Postal Service with hefty fines for endangering workers

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited the U.S. Postal Service for workplace safety violations involving electrical safety hazards found at a Pittsburgh mail processing facility. OSHA proposed penalties of $299,500 for the violations.

An employee complaint prompted the inspections, which OSHA launched in October 2009. Inspectors later cited the Postal Service with four willful violations incurring a fine of $265,000, two serious violations with a penalty of $9,500, and one repeat violation carrying a fine of $25,000.

OSHA Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels said the Postal Service demonstrated a “blatant disregard for workplace safety standards” and that the facility’s violations exposed employees to the “unnecessary risk of serious injury.”

The facility’s willful violations, defined by OSHA as violations committed with “plain indifference or intentional disregard for employee safety and health” involved its inadequate training for employees exposed to electrical hazards, failure to provide protective equipment to shield employees from arc-flash hazards and electrical currents, and failure to use appropriate safety signs, safety symbols, and other warnings to alert employees about the dangers of their work environment.

The serious violations stem from the use of an unapproved junction box in a wet and damp location and a failure to provide voltage-rated tools to employees. OSHA deems a violation serious when there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and the employer knew, or should have known, about the hazard.

The repeat violation was prompted by OSHA’s discovery of unapproved covers for electrical junction boxes, which exacerbated the electrical dangers. The agency issues repeat violations when it finds the same or similar violation in the employer’s other facilities within the state and within three years of the previous citation.

Earlier this month, OSHA fined two Philadelphia U.S. Postal Service distribution centers a total of $497,000 for seven willful violations and one serious violation. Inspectors found that, similar to the Pittsburgh postal facility, employees at the Philadelphia operations were inadequately trained to work without protective equipment while being exposed to live electrical currents.

“We will review OSHA’s concerns and make necessary adjustments to continue to ensure a safe working environment for our employees,” the U.S. Postal Service said in a statement.