1. SAFETY AND HEALTH
The Postal Service safety and health program met serious challenges as a result of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks and the subsequent mailing of letters containing anthrax. Despite these difficulties, the program reduced occupational injuries and illnesses, and in partnership with OSHA, implemented voluntary protection programs (VPP) to recognize and promote safety and health management at Postal Service facilities.
Postal Service safety and health professionals responded quickly in the lower Manhattan area following the September 11, 2001, attacks. While these attacks occurred at the close of the previous fiscal year, the effects continued into the new year. National, area, and local management provided counseling, medical follow-up, filtering masks, and eye drops for employees. The Postal Service hired contractors to perform necessary sampling and clean-up for affected units. Postal Service representatives also worked closely with local emergency managers and federal agencies, pursuant to the Federal Response Plan, on response and recovery operations in the lower Manhattan area.
The five deaths from anthrax, including two Postal Service employees, sent shockwaves through the general public and Postal Service employees alike, and raised serious questions about the safety of the mail. These bioterrorism attacks closed two major processing and distribution centers in the eastern United States, and contaminated 21 other postal facilities. The Postal Service also had to deal with more than 17,000 hoaxes that disrupted operations across the country.
Even before anthrax was identified in any Postal Service facilities, steps were taken to protect our employees. An Emergency Management Fundamentals course was already in the planning stages, which included a response to terrorist and bioterrorist acts. Ten of the courses were delivered to field managers over the year. On October 10, 2001, Headquarters issued field instructions to ensure that personnel had required training for emergencies, to encourage coordination with local emergency personnel, and that supervisors give mandatory safety talks on emergency action plans.
When the first two anthrax cases were identified in Boca Raton, FL, the Postal Inspection Service assisted other law enforcement agencies in a complete investigation. Postal Service safety and health management and the Inspection Service provided the managers of our 85 field administrative districts with information for safety talks that were provided to all employees, answering their most pressing questions. These included: What is anthrax? How is it transmitted? How can infection be prevented? How is anthrax treated? The Postal Service issued dozens of safety talks, guidance documents, and news updates to keep employees regularly informed about this issue.
As the nature of the anthrax threat became better understood, the Postal Service established a Unified Incident Command Center (UICC), which included the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and firms that were contracted to conduct facility sampling. The Postal Service successfully performed anthrax sampling at 284 facilities nationwide between October 25 and December 1, 2001. State health labs analyzed the samples. The Postal Service coordinated sample evaluation with the assistance of the American Public Health Laboratories (APHL) association. The sites selected for sampling included facilities that handled both upstream and downstream mail flows.
Twenty-three positive test results were received. In these cases, targeted decontaminations were performed immediately, and post “de-con” samples were taken for analysis. The Postal Service relied heavily on state and local health officials to determine if medication was appropriate for employees and “at risk” customers at these sites.
A nationwide safety and health alert system was operated through our National Postal Operations Center (NPOC) to provide protective equipment, make necessary maintenance changes, identify potential anthrax infections, and provide medicine through health agencies when appropriate. The NPOC was activated on October 16, 2001. The NPOC team was connected directly to all nine area postal operation centers (POCs). The area POCs were connected with the 85 district postal operation centers that managed the day-to-day interventions required to address thousands of hoaxes and reports of suspected incidents at facilities across the nation.
In addition to sampling, the UICC dealt with other issues requiring coordination with member agencies, including worker protection, public health, medical prophylaxis, disease surveillance, criminal investigation, emergency response, waste disposal, mail security, sampling methods, and bioterrorism contingency plans. The newly-created Office of Homeland Security provided funding and assistance necessary for our response.
The Postal Service developed and published Interim Guidelines for Sampling, Analysis, Decontamination and Disposal of Anthrax for U.S. Postal Service Facilities in cooperation with other federal agencies, postal unions, and management associations. These guidelines established prescreening protocols for sampling facilities, which all contractors were required to follow. The Postal Service also worked with the Federal National Response Team to produce an anthrax guidance document that was made available to the public. A Postal Service mailing to every household in the nation provided information on how to identify and handle suspicious mail.
To protect employees at facilities, the Postal Service switched from forced-air systems to remove dust from machines (“blowing out”) to either special filter-equipped vacuums or manual cleaning. The Postal Service purchased NIOSH-certified face masks and nitrile gloves for employees, and paid for all employee tests related to anthrax. Over 17,000 Postal Service employees who might have been exposed to anthrax were given precautionary medication, upon guidance from state health departments and the CDC. Vaccinations were offered to affected employees, and a total of 103 employees enrolled in this program. A database, the Serious Illness Tracking System (SITS), was set up November 21, 2001 to ensure that follow-up treatment was provided to employees hospitalized with suspicious flu-like symptoms or skin lesions. Postal Service medical professionals also monitored workers who reported flu-like symptoms, but were not hospitalized, since the onset of inhalation anthrax is similar to influenza.
The Postal Service selected Titan Corp. and Ion Beam Applications (IBA) Inc. to provide electron beam systems and services to sanitize mail intended for government offices and eliminate the threat of anthrax contamination. That government mail was sent to Titan in Lima, OH, and IBA in Bridgeport, NJ, where facilities operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The irradiation process was adjusted at both locations to avoid damaging the mail. The Safety function worked in conjunction with the CDC and NIOSH to identify potential health issues with irradiated mail, and implemented ventilation and other controls to protect employees and customers.
In spite of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent anthrax attacks, the Postal Service had a successful year in the safety and health program. The OSHA Injury and Illness rate was 7.72 accidents/illnesses per 200,000 work years, against a target of 8.41. Our national motor vehicle incident rate was 10.39 incidents per 1 million miles driven, versus a target of 11.50.
The Postal Service worked closely with OSHA to expand its participation in the VPP. The Scranton, PA, processing facility achieved Star status under the OSHA VPP program. In addition, the Glens Falls, NY, Post Office entered the Merit program which is the stepping stone to Star status. The designation “Star” is applied to a select group of facilities with exemplary health and safety programs. The Postal Service is also pursuing other partnerships with OSHA, including ergonomics initiatives.
The Safety Depends on Me video series began in mid-September 2001. Each kit contains a video, posters, a safety talk, and stickers. Kits on Slips, Trips and Falls and Materials Handling and Lifting and Industrial Accidents — What Happened? have been released. The programs have been very popular, and were awarded two Telly Awards. The Telly Awards were founded in 1980 to showcase and give recognition to outstanding non-network and cable commercials.
A. Fundamental Service to the People
B. Service to Small or Rural
C. Employee Compensation and
D. Postal Cost Apportionment and Postal
E. Transportation Policies
F. Postal Service Facilities, Equipment,
and Employee Working Conditions