I happened upon a statement issued last week by the Labor Department saying that OSHA was seeking a first-ever “enterprise-wide” remedy to compel the US Postal Service (USPS) to fix electrical hazards in its 350 processing and distribution (P&D) centers. Twenty-nine of the 350 P&D facilities are designated as OSHA VPP sites, but we don’t know if any of those sites are plagued with these electrical hazards. In the statement, OSHA Asst. Secretary David Michaels said:
“Even though it was aware of the hazards, USPS failed to institute the necessary measures to protect its workers. The complaint filed today seeks to put a stop to this irresponsible behavior.” [emphasis added]
When I read “irresponsible behavior” I wondered who exactly should be held accountable for it? Does responsibility fall to the general managers at each of these 350 P&D centers, or higher up the chain of command?
The Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer is Mr. John E. Potter, but perhaps it was the duty of the deputy postmaster, Mr. Patrick R. Donahoe, who is in charge of day-to-day operations including the USPS’s 33,000 facilities. We know that the USPS has gone through some tough budget woes, but that’s not an excuse that other employers can use for violating the law.
Maybe those who should be held to account are the USPS’s Board of Governors. Members of the 10-person Board include Louis J. Giuliano (Chairman), Thurgood Marshall, Jr., (Vice Chairman), former congressman James H. Bilbray, and former OMB/OIRA senior official James C. Miller III. Their responsibilities include:
“directs and controls its expenditures, reviews its practices, conducts long-range planning, and sets policies on all postal matters. The Board takes up matters such as service standards, capital investments and facilities projects exceeding $25 million.”
I wonder their reaction to being taken to task by OSHA for such fundamental safety issues.
OSHA says that its:
“inspections have revealed numerous violations of similar worker safety standards at USPS facilities throughout the nation. …USPS failed to adequately train workers in recognizing electrical hazards and how to work safely around such hazards, and did not provide workers with the appropriate tools and personal protective equipment to avoid injury or death while working around and on electrical equipment.”
That’s a pretty grim assessment of the USPS’s corporate safety culture–the 2nd largest civilian employer in the U.S.
“demonstrate a strong commitment to employee safety and health ….and have established, standardized corporate-level safety and health management systems, effectively implemented organization-wide as well as internal audit/screening processes that evaluate their facilities for safety and health performance.”
OSHA’s website says that under the VPP corporate program there are “streamlined processes” for approval to help expand the number of VPP participants. At the celebration ceremony at USPS headquarters, Postmaster John Potter said his organization was being:
“Recognized for its industry leadership, its employee-driven safety initiatives, and it commitment to improving workplace safety and health” and that “Safety and health add value to our lives, to our workplace, and to our business.”
Currently, there are a couple dozen USPS P&D facilities designated as VPP sites.
I wonder how we might learn something from this situation. OSHA’s statement suggests these electrical problems in USPS P&D facilities are a wide-spread problem. How about a case study examining how a large organization purports to embrace worker health and safety, has 29 sites designated as VPP, but is now the subject of the Labor Department’s first-ever enterprise wide enforcement action.