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OSHA Dismisses Penalties against USPS

15 Apr, 2024 Liz Carey

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Portland, OR ( – Allegations of violations at a mail-sorting facility in Portland, Ore., were unproven, an administrative law judge with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission said Wednesday.

The judgement will dismiss the total penalty of $148,137, officials said.

In 2021, inspectors with OSHA followed up on an employee complaint about the USPS facility in Portland alleging that at least six nonqualified employees had been allowed to complete maintenance on machinery.

“The first complaint was e-filed with OSHA on November 24, 2021, by [redacted], who at the time of his complaint was a level 9 mechanic who worked on Tour 1 and was an authorized employee on the DBCS and AFSM at the site,” court records said. “His online complaint includes the following commentary: ‘The Postal Service management officials have been placing untrained employees in unsafe situations. They’ve been allow untrained employees to complete the Operational Maintenance, Preventive Maintenance and Reactive Maintenance Routes. These employees are not qualified per the Electrical Work plan agreement 6 EL-810-2013-5 and MMO-023- 13. There are approximately 6 employees that I’ve identified so far.’”

A second complaint alleged employees had been exposed to hazards on the job.

“The Postal Service has been exposing employees to electrical shock, crushed-by, struck-by, any other related hazards while performing maintenance work without proper training in Lock-out Tag-out (LOTO) procedures,’” court records said. “(OSHA Area Director (AD) Cecil Tipton) reviewed the Notice and then assigned Compliance Officer (CO) Cassandra Davis and CO Michael Potter to inspect Respondent’s worksite. When asked whether he received a copy of the Notice before CO Davis inspected the worksite, (the complainant) said that he remembered seeing the Notice.”

Inspectors took testimony from 17 employees and then cited the USPS sorting facility for three serious violations, alleging the lack of training on lock-out/tag-out procedures and machine guarding, and that a lock-out/tag-out device had been removed from machinery.

“The hazards at issue in this case relate to the employees who are mechanics/technicians for the various machines in the facility. Mechanics are responsible for machine preventative and non-scheduled maintenance including tasks such as changing belts, vacuuming, and unjamming tray lines the floor and ‘in the area [they are] watching the machine, watching the belts, mak[ing] sure the belts haven’t drifted from side to side rubbing on the – that they’re tracked properly and not rubbing on one of the guard rails. Ensuring that there’s nothing jammed in there and tearing apart somebody’s mail,’” court records said.

The judge found that the Secretary of Labor didn’t prove the cited violations occurred. According to the court records, the judge found that much of the evidence was insufficient. In one instance, the evidence presented was a photograph showed that a safety device had been removed.

“This evidence does not establish that (USPS) … operated without the guard in place; the evidence establishes only that the guard was not in place during OSHA’s inspection,” the judge wrote.

The judge also found that the secretary failed to apply the correct standards in the inspection.

“The general industry LOTO standard, effective Jan. 2, 1990, ‘covers the servicing and maintenance of machines and equipment in which the unexpected energization or start-up of the machines or equipment, or release of stored energy could cause injury to employees,’” court records said. “The LOTO standard defines servicing and/or maintenance as ‘workplace activities’ exposing an employee to the possibility of unexpected energization such as ‘constructing, installing, setting up, adjusting, inspecting’ as well as “cleaning or unjamming” machines or equipment.’”

The judge found that employees working on the machinery were trained and qualified to do so.

“The record overwhelmingly supports a finding that the machinery at the worksite each have their own ECPs, that Respondent’s employees work near the machinery, that some of Respondent’s workers service and maintain that equipment, and that Respondent required additional specific lockout/tagout training in those procedures for those workers who perform service and maintenance on specific pieces of machinery,” the court record showed. “This finding is consistent with OSHA’s definition of those employees who must be trained under the cited standard: authorized, affected and all other employees.”

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    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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