Embrace Your Responsibility

Nov. 16, 2011
Safety and security should be part of everyone’s job description. Problems arise when people believe that applies to everyone but themselves.

One of the unofficial mottos of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” This promise was designed to instill a feeling of security that the correspondence you entrusted to U.S. postal workers is in good hands.

That feeling of security isn’t as widespread on the docks of many USPS mail facilities. According to OSHA, it received more than 170 worker complaints alleging ergonomic hazards at USPS Processing and Distribution Centers nationwide. While investigating those ergonomic hazards, OSHA found numerous problems with USPS practices regarding OSHA’s injury and illness recordkeeping requirements. Eight of the ten inspections OSHA conducted resulted in the issuance of citations for recordkeeping violations.

“OSHA believes that under-recording of injuries and illnesses may be a pervasive problem at the USPS,” wrote David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health. “The percentage of the inspected facilities with violations is indicative of a systemic failure by the USPS in properly maintaining the OSHA Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses.”

Case in point: OSHA cited a USPS facility in Nashville for a willful safety violation in allowing workers to use damaged and unrepaired dock levelers. It began this inspection following a complaint that an employee was seriously injured while lifting a damaged dock plate. The strap that the employee was using to lift the plate slipped off the steel flap, which caused the employee to lose balance and fall backwards, striking the concrete floor.

Months later the very same facility was hit with another safety violation after an employee was struck by a mail cart which was struck by a powered tug with defective brakes. The USPS was cited with a repeat safety violation for exposing workers to being struck by powered industrial trucks. That defective tug should have been removed from service before this chain reaction could happen.

I’m telling you about these events to set the stage for our Safety and Security issue. Material handling and logistics professionals deserve guarantees of safety and security in their workplace. Yet, according to OSHA’s “Fatality and Catastrophe Investigation Summary (FCIS),” between 2002 and 2009 there were 96 fatal loading dock incidents. Eleven of these involved trailer/dock separation.

Ronald Allen ([email protected]), founder of a consulting firm called Safety Turnaround Services and a former administrator for the American Society of Safety Engineers, extrapolated from OSHA’s data that there were approximately 338 loading dock fatalities during that seven-year spread, 39 of which were related to dock/trailer separation. He compares these estimates to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries that documented 631 forklift-related fatalities for the same period.

He suggests administrative controls, including clearly defined, site-specific procedures that define the actions of dock attendants, lift truck operators and truck drivers.

“The procedures should specify who is responsible for authorizing access to the loading dock, deploying truck restraint devices or systems, inspecting the trailer and restraint devices, releasing the trailer after loading and other responsibilities,” he says.

Responsibility is the key word here. Operators need to wear seatbelts to keep them from being thrown from their vehicles in case of a rollover or trailer/dock separation incident. And those responsible for the security of the shipments entrusted to them—both in the public and private sectors—must remember the people and supply chains depending on their safe delivery. If they don’t accept this responsibility their bosses must.

The safety and security features in this edition of MH&L are dedicated to instilling that sense of responsibility. Don’t let snow, rain, heat or gloom of night keep you from embracing it.

About the Author

Tom Andel | Editor-in-Chief

Tom Andel is an award-winning editorial content creator and manager with more than 35 years of industry experience. His writing spans several industrial disciplines, including power transmission, industrial controls, material handling & logistics, and supply chain management. 

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