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Examples of Good Ergonomics Practices at
the United States Postal Service
OSHA, the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), the National Postal Mail Handlers Union (NMHU) and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) entered into an Ergonomic Strategic Partnership in 2003. The goal of the partnership is the reduction of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) through an ergonomic risk reduction process (ERRP). ERRP creates self-sustaining teams and imparts ergonomic identification and resolution skills to the employees of the Postal Service. The ERRP site core team combines the talents of management, labor unions, and individual craft employees to ensure that all employees have a safe and productive workplace.
By bringing management, unions and employees together to cooperatively identify potential hazards and ergonomic health risks, the Postal Service, through this partnership, is transforming their workplace safety and health ergonomic program into a model for both the public and private sector.
The USPS has more than 700,000 employees, making it the second largest employer in America (4th largest in the world) and ranks 11th among revenue producers in America (27th in the world).
The USPS has 675 mail processing facilities and more than 38,000 retail sites. USPS transports and delivers more than 206 billion pieces of mail per year, with delivery to 141 million addresses six days per week. Two million addresses are added annually, which is nearly the number of addresses in San Diego, California. The Postal Service is not subsidized by federal, state or local governments. It is an entirely self-sustaining federal agency.
Ergonomic Risk Reduction Process - Background
The Ergonomic Risk Reduction Process (ERRP) was tested using the Albany, New York Processing and Distribution Center in March 2001 as a pilot site. The preliminary results from the Albany pilot showed the ergonomics risk reduction model could reduce musculoskeletal disorders and workers’ compensation costs when USPS labor, management and OSHA work as a “TEAM” to reduce and/or eliminate potential risk factors. The OSHA area director provided guidance and attended several of the Joint Labor Management Safety and Health committee meetings.
Once the ERRP is initiated, the USPS embeds a full-time ergonomist at the site to train the site coordinator from kickoff through implementation (60 - 90 days). The ergonomist conveys ergonomic process knowledge to the Core Team or ERRP city/territory teams, as well as USPS and union leadership through training and hands-on job analysis. The agronomist performs evaluations for the verification of abilities necessary to continue the process, demonstrating the ERRP site's or district's capacity to be self-sustaining.
Summary of the Job Improvement steps
The heart of ERRP is the site core team which reports to the Joint Labor Management Safety and Health Committee. The core team has representatives from each union and management for each shift (tour). The teams have a 1-4 hour workshop once a week. Activities of the site core team include:
Major building blocks for the process are employee participation and leadership from plant management and the union leaders. Employee participation creates credibility, respect and trust not only for the process, but in the workplace. As in any effective safety and health management system, top management commitment is crucial to the success of the ERRP process.
To be successful in a large organization, such as the USPS, the ergonomics process must stay focused on a narrow path with two goals; the identification of ergonomic risk factors, and the elimination or reduction of those risks.
The vision of the Ergonomic Risk Reduction Process is as follows:
"Postal employees will be able to do their job without pain and enjoy their retirement without physical restriction."The examples of solutions in this material are the product of the USPS Ergonomic Risk Reduction Process teams across the nation. Working with employees, plant and union leadership and safety and health committees, the ERRP teams have identified opportunities to reduce musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) at their facility and they have implemented solutions to eliminate or reduce the risk factors that contribute to MSDs. These solutions were selected from hundreds of implementations because the tasks are common to many mail processing facilities and the solutions have general applicability. To reduce risk factors the solution must be appropriate for the task and used by the people performing the task. A successful implementation is more than the control, training (employees, supervisors, and maintenance), testing, and periodic feedback are also needed.
Task Intervention # 1
Work Location - Mail Prep
Task - Mail handlers remove bundled flats (2 C & Standard) from hampers to prep into Flat Mail Carts for the AFSM 100 flats processing operation.
Opportunity to reduce risk - Reaching to the bottom of hampers to unload mail resulted in frequent bending, extended reaching, and forceful lifting from below knee height.
Solution - Provide a container tilter and service talk on the use of hamper tilters and updated the JSA. Less than $5,000
Task Intervention # 2
Work Location - Maintenance on automation equipment
Task - Maintenance employee working on automated machines such as the AFCS, DBCS, OCR, BCS, SPBM, MPFSM, AFSM, LMLM, etc. vacuum the equipment to remove dust and debris.
Opportunity to reduce risk - Positioning the vacuuming nozzle results in prolonged gripping in awkward wrist and shoulder position
Solution - Use a swivel nozzle and flexible hose attachment to keep the wrist straight and elbow in close to the body. Less than $100
Task Intervention # 3
Work Location - Dock/platform
Task - Raising dock plates requires pulling a chain in the dock plate.
Opportunity to reduce risk - Pulling the chain results in forceful exertion while bending to the floor.
Solution - Provide a tool to pick up the chain that can be pulled while standing. Less than $100.
Task Intervention # 4
Work Location - Loading trays and tubs
Task - Lifting trays and tubs from pallets on the floor
Opportunity to reduce risk - Lifting trays or tubs of mail from a pallet results in frequent bending and forceful lifting from below knee height.
Solution - Provide a pallet lifter to elevate trays to waist level. Less than $5000
Task Intervention # 5
Work Location - Culling mail in cancellation
Task - Pulling oversized letters, parcels and flats from the culling belt on the canceling machine.
Opportunity to reduce risk - Work surface is too high for shorter employees, resulting in awkward shoulder position.
Solution - Provide an adjustable and removable platform. Less than $200.
Task Intervention # 6
Work Location - Delivery Barcode Sorter (DBCS)
Task - Sweeping letters from the DBCS bins and placing them in trays
Opportunity to reduce risk - Heavy volume mail is sorted to a bin on the bottom level resulting in frequent bending.
Solution - Reprogram the sort plan to allow heavy volume mail to be sorted into bins at the middle level. Rotate between sweeping and feeding the DBCS. Less than $500
Task Intervention # 7
Work Location - Flats mail processing equipment
Task - Tubs of mail are stacked in carts, then unloaded from the cart at the flats processing equipment.
Opportunity to reduce risk - Tubs are stacked above shoulder height resulting in forceful lifting with the hands above the head.
Solution - Supervisors should ensure employees follow safety guidelines and not fill containers above the ¾ capacity mark on the containers.
Task Intervention # 8
Work Location - Dock/platform
Task - Pull the 5th wheel release pin on a trailer
Opportunity to reduce risk - The handle to release the 5th wheel is under the trailer resulting in forceful pulling with a long reach and bent back
Solution - Provide a tool that allows the handle to be pulled without reaching under the trailer. Less than $100.
Task Intervention # 9
Work Location - Small Parcel Bundle Sorter (SPBS)
Task - Removing reject mail from the waterfall
Opportunity to reduce risk - Mail from the waterfall falls on the floor resulting in prolonged bending or squatting
Solution - Place a cart at the waterfall to catch the mail. Less than $300.
Task Intervention # 10
Work Location - Dumper or sweeping flat/parcels
Task - Stacking and unstacking empty hampers, or wire containers
Opportunity to reduce risk - Stacking empty hampers or wire container to save floor space or shipping cost results in forceful lifting and pushing above head height.
Solution - Provide a hamper (and wire container) stacker. Less than $12,000.
File: USPS Ergo Best Practices Apr 16, 2007