Are USPS Changes Leading to More Work-Related Injuries?

Letter carriers and other postal employees have been saying for several years that changes at the Postal Service would lead to more job-related industries. A new report suggests they may be right.

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“Despite the Postal Service’s efforts to decrease the number of employees [by 19% since 2008], its workers’ compensation costs have increased 35 percent,” the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General noted in a report last week.

The OIG pointed out that USPS’s workers compensation costs per work hour are now 59% higher than those of comparable private-industry workforces. But it offered no data that would help explain the dramatic increases, which led to $1.3 billion in workers compensation claims from July 2012 to June 2013.

The report speculated as to the causes, but most of its guesses seem off the mark: Older workforce? (Nope, it’s not much older on average than it was in 2008.) Cost-of-living adjustments? (Average hourly pay at the Postal Service is up only 7% since 2008.) Workers compensation fraud? (You mean that didn’t exist in 2008?)

The OIG put forth one plausible explanation – “the reduced number of light/limited duty positions available because of automation and lower mail volume.” But it didn’t consider several other possibilities, most of which have been put forward by front-line employees:

  • Increased street time: Delivery-point sequencing of letters – and, for some areas, flat mail – have meant carriers spend less time in the office sorting mail and more time delivering. That’s likely to lead to repetitive-strain injuries, especially on walking routes, for carriers who are delivering to more addresses than ever.
  • Longer hours: The proportion of overtime hours is up 80% for mailhandlers and 30% for letter carriers so far this fiscal year versus the same period in FY2008. That may also lead to more repetitive-strain injuries.
  • Night-time deliveries: Reports of carriers working their routes after dark, especially during the winter in northern parts of the country, have grown dramatically in the past couple of years. That seems to be a combination of longer routes and of mail arriving at the delivery units later than in the past. In any case, having carriers negotiating icy sidewalks at night is a prescription for more slips, falls, and fractures.
  • More uninsured employees: USPS has reduced its costs the past few years partly by replacing retirees with lower-paid, often younger non-career employees. Such employees are more likely to report a pinched nerve or sore knee as a work-related injury, since many have little or no health insurance.
  • More parcels: Letter volume is declining, but postal employees are handling and delivering more packages than ever — often using delivery vehicles not suited to the purpose. The higher proportion of heavy and oversized mail pieces may be causing more injuries.

The Postal Service can’t address the troubling workers compensation trend without understanding the causes. And the way to get at the causes is not with speculation but with actual data – for example, trends in injuries by occupation, age, and type.

To be fair, the OIG report does offer viable ways for USPS to manage its workers compensation costs better and for overhauling the relevant laws. It notes that the agency is paying workers compensation to two “active” employees who are more than 100 years old – certainly a sign that something is amiss.

via Dead Tree Edition: Are USPS Changes Leading to More Work-Related Injuries?.

3 thoughts on “Are USPS Changes Leading to More Work-Related Injuries?

  1. The Postal Service appreciates the work of the Office of Inspector General (IG) highlighting the need to reform the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA). The IG report describes many factors which contribute to the increase in the Postal Service’s workers’ compensation costs, including injury rates associated with a more mature workforce, reduced light/limited duty positions attributed to automation, and cost of living adjustments.

    The cost of living adjustments mentioned in the report do not refer to employees’ salary adjustments, but rather federally mandated cost of living adjustments provided to federal employees on the Department of Labor (DOL) Periodic Rolls. For the years 2008 – 2013 those increases were 4.3 percent, 0 percent, 3.4 percent, 1.7 percent, 3.2 percent, and 1.7 percent respectively, which when compounded equates to an increase of 15.1 percent over the base period.

    The Postal Service also strongly believes that healthcare inflation is a major contributing factor to the cost increases. Our average medical cost per case has increased 43.4 percent since 2008 far greater than the compounded 21.3 percent reported adjusted medical care cost increase reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In comparison, the average compensation cost per case has increased 24.2 percent in the same time period.

    We must reiterate the findings of the IG that these increases in expenses occurred during a time when claims filed with the DOL were less than the 2008 level; and a majority of the workers’ compensation costs are attributed to employees who were injured prior to 2008.

    The IG has aggressively gone after fraud, having saved the Postal Service more than $289 million from future losses, and nearly $52 million in medical and disability judgments associated with fraudulent claims.

    We agree with the IG’s call for reforms to FECA and we will continue to work with Congress on reforms that will return the Postal Service to profitability.

  2. Union and NAME of Local/Branch
    APWU Local 4088
    This week I had a coworker with an existing injury tell a supervisor that if he was moved into an automation function he would likely be injured. He was moved, was injured and received a Letter of Warning for his troubles.

    Several years ago, I was pulled off my light duty assignment with a healing foot fracture. I told the supervisor what my injury was and what my restrictions were. He moved me and I re-fractured the foot. When I returned to work, the arsemaggot tried to give me a Letter of Warning. I contacted the Postmaster and told him what happened. He told me that I knew what my restrictions were and that I should have refused the supervisor’s order. He added that I deserved a Letter of Warning for “being dumb.” Some “stuff” was communicated behind closed doors and I threatened to contact the DOL and go public. I received no Letter of Warning.

    This is the message they convey:

    We don’t care if you work safely… We couldn’t care less if you get hurt… We just want you to be clear that if you dare to report an injury, you will be disciplined.

    (Former VPP STAR facility)

  3. Union and NAME of Local/Branch
    The results of the management lapdog’s study aren’t surprising, as usual, they ignore the elephant sitting in the center of the room.

    Consolidation and workforce cuts= fewer people doing far more work, and more overtime work. An 80% increase in overtime hours for mailhandlers, who already habitually worked more overtime than other crafts, cannot be a healthy thing.

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