Safety ‘Happy Talk’ Just Isn’t Enough

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(This article first appeared in the May/June 2010 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Postal officials frequently brag about their commitment to workers’ safety, but their actions don’t always line up with the “happy talk.”

A recent example is management’s refusal to grant the union access to the USPS Safety Toolkit, a computer-based program that is integral to management’s safety, health and environmental program. Initially, the Safety Toolkit (STK) was a simple system management used to store documents related to safety, health, and environmental issues. Over time, however, it has evolved into a sophisticated system that is an essential component of the safety program itself.

The APWU believes that the STK contains numerous “modules” covering various safety topics and programs. In addition to safety instructions, training documents, and forms, we understand the STK contains the results of safety inspections, hazard abatement systems, accident reports and investigations. We also believe it contains safety, environmental, and ergonomic “resource pages” and many other safety-related instructions, policies and directives. Taken together, this material comprises all – or a substantial part of – the Postal Service safety program.

Of course, we can’t be certain about what is in the toolkit, because management won’t grant the union access to the program.

Management’s refusal violates the Article 14 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which requires the USPS to provide a safe work environment and stipulates that, “The Union will cooperate with and assist the USPS to live up to this responsibility.”

Article 14 also requires the parties to participate in a Joint Labor-Management Safety Committee and a Joint Ergonomics Committee, which are responsible for evaluating all aspects of management’s safety and ergonomics programs, and recommending improvements.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act also requires management to share information about safety programs with labor organizations.

The union has requested a full briefing by the Postal Service on the content and functions of the Safety Toolkit. We also demand access to the Safety Toolkit itself, so that we can conduct a hands-on review. This is necessary for the union to monitor the Postal Service’s compliance with its obligations.

As with other safety and health issue, this request must be given priority consideration and action.

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