USPS found to be at fault in metro mailman’s heat death from 2012

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — When a mail carrier died on the job, his wife blamed the Post Office for not taking his concerns about excessive heat seriously. The widow finally has closure two years after his death.

All Kay Watzlawick has of her husband John are memories. They would’ve been married 35 years this year and she remembers him fondly, even when recounting disagreements.

“I’m not perfect and he wasn’t either. I miss those arguments believe it or not,” she said.

John Watzlawick was a devoted mail carrier of 28 years. He died delivering mail on a blistering hot day in July 2012.

“One death is too many from this because it could’ve been prevented,” Watzlawick said.

His body temperature was 108 degrees and according to court records, he died of exposure to excessive heat. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration agreed his death should not have happened.

In a statement released by OSHA Thursday afternoon, the investigation uncovered the fact that the U.S. Postal Service did not have procedures in place to address worker concerns during times of excessive heat.

Watzlawick found out about verdict by phone. USPS was found guilty with a penalty of $70,000.

“This summer he should’ve retired and it hit me hard because we had plans to do stuff,” she said.

It might be too late for her husband, but she hopes this will offer some protection to other mail carriers out there.

Here’s the full statement OSHA provided on Thursday afternoon:

Administrative Law Judge Peggy Ball has upheld the willful citation issued to the U.S. Postal Service Truman Station in Independence, Mo., by U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration following the July 2012 death of a mail carrier. The mail carrier developed heat-related illness symptoms, collapsed while working his route and was taken to the hospital where he died as a result of his exposure to excessive heat. The Postal Service will pay a penalty of $70,000.

“The court found that the message to employees from top management down to supervisors was clear –heat is not an excuse for poor performance. This culture must change,” said Barbara Theriot, OSHA’s area director in Kansas City. “If the postal service 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. This ruling underscores the need for employers to take proactive steps to keep workers safe in extreme heat.”

The willful violation addressed the hazard of multiple employees who were required to work during periods when excessive heat advisories and warnings were issued by the National Weather Service. An OSHA investigation found that the postal service did not have procedures in place to address worker concerns during times of excessive heat.

The Postal Service contested the citation when it was issued in December 2012.

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