OSHA Investigation: Postal Service Failed to Protect Worker from Heat

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. –  The heat-related death of an Independence Mo. mail carrier in July prompted an investigation and on Monday the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced it had determined the U.S. Postal Service Truman Station failed to protect employees during excessive heat.

July’s Coverage: Mail Carrier’s Death May Be Heat-Related

OSHA initiated an inspection in July after mail carrier John Watzlawick developed heat-related illness symptoms and collapsed while working his route near 35th and Delaware in Independence. He was taken to the hospital where he died.

His wife Kay Watzlawick told FOX 4 that her husband had called into work the day before to say he was sick but said they told him he needed to come in because he was on vacation the week before.

The next day, on Tuesday, July 24, Watzlawick collapsed and died.

“If this employer had trained workers in recognizing the symptoms of heat stroke, and taken precautions to ensure workers had access to water, rest and shade, this unfortunate incident may have been avoided,” said Charles Adkins, OSHA’s regional administrator in Kansas City.

OSHA called it a “willful violation” because the Postal Service of Independence did not have procedures in place for the hazards employees were facing as they worked during periods when excessive heat advisories and warnings were issued by the National Weather Service.

A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

OSHA has proposed a fine of $70,000. 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 in Kansas City, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Information and resources for workers and employers on heat illness, including how to prevent it and what to do in case of an emergency, are available in English and Spanish at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index.html.

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