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July 11, 2013
Postal Service improving electrical safety; should you do the same?

The United States Postal Service (USPS) has reportedly made significant changes to its policies and practices around electrical safety. The move was prompted by a whopping $6 million in proposed OSHA fines. Keep reading to find out what will change, and how to avoid being cited for violations that can lead to electric shock, burn, or death.

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In July 2010 OSHA cited the USPS for extensive violations of electrical work standards. The postal service contested the citations, and the result is a recent settlement covering all USPS sites. In addition to work practice changes, training, and monitoring by OSHA, the deal includes an initial $100,000 payment and a suspended payment of $3 million pending full abatement of the hazards. Unlike other federal agencies, the postal service can be fined by OSHA.

‘Egregious’ hazards

The American Postal Workers Union says the changes follow a 4-year campaign by the union and OSHA “to force postal management to address egregious electrical safety hazards.” Under the terms of the agreement:

  • All USPS employees who perform electrical work will be retrained to comply with OSHA requirements.
  • Employees are prohibited from working on electrically energized equipment except for tasks that can be done only when the equipment is energized.
  • The USPS must provide employees with PPE, including electrically protective gloves and full-body arc flash protection for work on energized equipment.
  • The USPS will assign an electrical work plan coordinator at each postal facility.
  • The USPS is required to relabel electrical equipment with safety warnings and information.

The agreement also requires extensive monitoring of compliance. The USPS is required to report the results of the safety improvement program in detail to OSHA quarterly during the 2-year term of the agreement.

Learn from the mistakes of one of the country’s largest employers and make sure your electrical safety program is up to date. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Make sure only authorized employees are permitted to work on electrical systems or equipment, and keep unauthorized employees out of the work area.
  • Make sure you have a lockout/tagout program and that all employees are trained to follow its procedures.
  • Do not work on or near live parts in hazardous locations (e.g., in wet or damp areas, or where there are corrosive or flammable atmospheres).
  • Use only insulated tools, and wear voltage-rated gloves when working on or near live parts.
  • Wear safety glasses and other personal protective equipment (PPE) as necessary when working on electrical systems or equipment.
  • If possible, do not work alone.
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