SCARBOROUGH — After the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the southern Maine U.S. Postal Service Distribution Center $430,000 last week for a variety of willful safety violations, it was revealed that the situation at the Scarborough center is not unique.
On July 6, the U.S. Department of Labor filed a worker safety complaint against the USPS for electrical work safety violations at 350 distribution centers across the country, the same violations that prompted OSHA to issue the citations in Scarborough.
“When the same safety violation is discovered in multiple locations of an organization, we need an enterprise-wide remedy to protect workers from the hazard,” Solicitor of Labor M. Patricia Smith said in a press release Tuesday. “The Department of Labor will seek other opportunities to utilize this remedy.”
The complaint asks OSHA to order USPS to correct the violations.
Local USPS spokesman Tom Rizzo said on Wednesday that there was nothing new to report and that OSHA’s citations are still under review. USPS has up to 15 days from the date of issuance to appeal the citations.
But Tim Doughty, president of American Postal Workers Union Local 458 in Scarborough, said “the violation exists.”
Doughty said he has worked in the southern Maine distribution center for 32 years, first in Portland, then, when the center moved to Scarborough, as an electronic technician.
“The problem is a rare occurrence, but when it does occur, it’s catastrophic,” he said.
Doughty said he saw a couple of occurrences as a result of these kinds of violations when the distribution center was in Portland, but that he was not aware of anyone getting hurt because of these issues since the center moved to Scarborough in 2006.
The OSHA citations center around maintenance employees who work on the electrical equipment used to sort mail. OSHA found that maintenance workers were not properly trained, did not have personal protection equipment and were failing to verify that power was off before working on the electrical equipment.
“They were locking out the equipment,” Doughty said, “but they weren’t verifying the absence of power.”
If the electrical equipment is on when an employee begins working on it, it could arc and send out a shock of 480 volts, which could be lethal, he said.
The Scarborough distribution center has approximately 80 maintenance employees.
Doughty said since the citations were issued the USPS has been making attempts to get everyone who works on this equipment properly trained, and that OSHA is having a conference next week to discuss the issues.
“I have not seen any (personal protection equipment) issued to anyone,” he said.
Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org