ANDOVER, Mass. – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited the U.S. Postal Service for a serious safety violation in connection with the heat-related death of a letter carrier from the Forest Street post office in Medford.
“Heat stress illnesses and fatalities can be prevented with knowledge. Knowing how to recognize and respond to symptoms can save a life,” said Jeffrey Erskine, OSHA’s area director for Middlesex and Essex counties in Massachusetts. “In this case, the Postal Service had such information, but failed to communicate it to letter carriers, so they could protect themselves. Had this been done, this tragedy could have been prevented.”
James Baldassarre collapsed on July 5 after walking his route for about five hours in 94-degree heat with a heat index in excess of 100 degrees. He carried a mail bag weighing up to 35 pounds. The area was under a heat advisory from the National Weather Service. Baldassarre died the next day as a result of heat stroke.
OSHA’s investigation found that the Postal Service exposed workers to the recognized hazard of working in excessive heat by failing to implement an adequate heat stress management program that would have addressed and informed mail carriers of how to identify, prevent and report symptoms of heat-related illnesses.
The citation includes suggested feasible means to address the hazard including adequately implementing a heat stress management program tailored to the particulars of the work performed by mail carriers. An effective program would contain measures to address the recognized hazard of exposure to excessive heat and it would train workers to recognize, prevent, respond to and report heat-related illnesses.
The citation, which carries a proposed fine of $7,000, the maximum fine that can be assessed for a serious violation, can be viewed at http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/USPS917092.pdf*. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
Information about OSHA’s campaign to prevent heat-related illnesses among outdoor workers can be viewed at http://www.osha.gov/heat. OSHA also has a free application for mobile devices that enables workers and supervisors to monitor the heat index at their work sites. It is available for download on Android-based platforms and the iPhone at http://www.osha.gov/heatapp.
The Postal Service has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA’s toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency’s Andover office at 978-837-4460.