United States Postal Service Partnership Reduces Ergonomic Injuries and Promotes Good Ergonomic Practices
In 2003, OSHA, the United States Postal Service (USPS), the American Postal Workers Union, and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union formed the USPS Partnership. The overall goal of the Partnership is to reduce Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) among USPS' more than 700,000 employees at its 675 mail processing facilities and more than 38,000 retail sites. To achieve this goal, the partners used an Ergonomic Risk Reduction Process (ERRP) which is designed to help identify ergonomic risk factors and eliminate or reduce those risks.
In March 2001, prior to the Partnership, USPS' Albany, New York Processing and Distribution Center was tested as a pilot site. During this pilot, the ERRP was used. The preliminary results showed the ergonomics risk reduction model could reduce musculoskeletal disorders and workers' compensation costs when USPS labor, management, and OSHA worked as a team to reduce and/or eliminate potential risk factors at the numerous worksites. The USPS is also engaged in a Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) initiative which also promotes labor, management, and government cooperation and safety and health excellence.
Promoting a Safe and Healthy Culture
Once the Partnership started, USPS embedded a full-time ergonomist at each participating site to train the site coordinator from kickoff through implementation (60 - 90 day period). The ergonomist conveyed 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 ergonomist also performed evaluations for the verification of abilities necessary to continue the process, demonstrating the ERRP site's or district's capacity to be self-sustaining. By bringing management, unions and employees together to cooperatively identify potential hazards and ergonomic health risks, USPS - through this Partnership - is transforming their workplace safety and health ergonomic program into a model for both the public and private sector. The OSHA Area Office Director provided guidance throughout the Partnership and attended several of the Joint Labor Management Safety and Health committee meetings.
Reduction in Musculoskeletal Disorder (MSD) Recordable Rate at ERRP sites
ERRP sites in the process for the first three years of the Partnership have experienced the most dramatic results:
- 38% reduction in the MSD Recordable rate
- 40% reduction in Handling & Lifting rate
ERRP sites are experiencing greater success than non-ERRP sites:
- MSD rates are 35% less in ERRP sites
- Handling & Lifting rates are 18% less in ERRP sites
- $1.8 million savings in workers' compensation medical costs (a 39% reduction)
- More than 77,000 employees have been trained
- Nearly 7,000 ergonomic task analyses have been conducted and 3,600 fixes have been implemented.
Other Benefits of Good Ergonomic Practices
The Partnership has experienced many other benefits of good ergonomic practices. For example, supervisors and employees are now working together to resolve problems - resulting in a better trained workforce and development of individual responsibility for job improvements. Some of the other benefits include:
- Improved communication and organizational skills of the ERRP team members,
- Follow-up on employee suggestions,
- USPS, Labor and OSHA resolving issues as partners for better employee health,
- Management and union leadership working together,
- ERRP teams provide input on equipment layout,
- Better morale and evidence that the Postal Service cares about its employees,
- Improved mail flow, and
- Low cost improvements.
As a result of the USPS being such a large organization, management felt that it was important for the objectives of the Partnership to remain narrow in scope. Therefore, the goals of the Partnership were focused on identifying ergonomic risk factors and eliminating or reducing those risks. In order to achieve these goals, employees were taught ergonomic identification and resolution skills. Self-sustaining site core teams were developed to combine the talents of management, unions, and individual craft employees to reduce and/or eliminate potential risk factors.