June 08, 2023
Use of face masks/filtering face pieces is recommended.
City letter carriers in the Midwest, New England and along the eastern seaboard are facing hazardous working conditions caused by smoke from hundreds of wildfires blazing across central and eastern Canada.
The air quality index (AQI), a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency metric for fine particulate air pollution, exceeded a staggering 400 at times in Syracuse, New York City and Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. Today, the AQI is hovering around 300 in Washington, D.C. A level of 50 or under is considered good; anything over 300 is considered “hazardous,” when even healthy people are advised to curtail outdoor physical activity. This poses a special problem for NALC members who must work outside for extended periods each day.
Executive Vice President Paul Barner said today that “The NALC’s business agents and branch leaders are relentlessly advocating for the health and safety of our members as this crisis unfolds.” Barner has been in steady contact with management at the Postal Service’s Washington headquarters all week. Management has responded with local mandatory stand-up talks and will provide masks to carriers who request them. Leave is being granted on a case-by-case basis, but the NALC is urging that all employees with medical conditions that could be worsened by breathing in smoke be given leave automatically. Face masks/filtering face pieces provide varying levels of protection based on type and proper usage. Additionally, N-95 masks (filtering facepieces) are authorized for use by postal employees. Employees who have health concerns based on medical conditions are encouraged to immediately consult with their physician. NALC will continue to advocate on behalf of its members and encourage the USPS to provide appropriate protective facemasks/filtering face pieces.
Meteorologists expect the situation to improve markedly by Thursday night or Friday morning, though a situation like this is inherently unpredictable.
NALC Director of Safety and Health Manny Peralta urged all carriers to be vigilant about potential harmful health effects from working in these hazardous conditions: “If you are feeling sick or are having a hard time breathing immediately seek medical attention before it is too late and then, if possible, call your supervisor to let them know what you are going through (see “Safety and Health” column). It is better to be safe than sorry,” he said.
For more information on the hazards of smoke pollution, and your rights under the federal workers compensation system, click here.