The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued citations carrying $88,000 in penalties to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for unsafe forklift operations at its Urbandale, Iowa, distribution center.
Announced on April 11, the citations arose from an investigation that took place in late 2015 following a complaint that alleged forklift operators were handling unstable loads and driving forward with no clear path of visibility. No further details were given about the origin of the complaint, but OSHA recently has strengthened its whistleblower protection for employees who file such reports with it.
OSHA says it cited the postal facility for two repeated violations and one serious safety violation, which include employees being exposed to crushing and struck-by hazards associated with operating powered industrial trucks.
OSHA says USPS failed to take actions including appropriate training, instruction, visual observation and other means when a forklift operator was involved in an accident or near-miss. According to the agency, operators were moving loads of an excessive size that routinely created off-center loads. It says operators were not ensuring loads were safely arranged and also were not reducing speed to a safe level while negotiating turns to prevent the load from shifting, rocking and then tipping off the forks, exposing other employees to struck-by hazards.
Although it is not guaranteed to happen, these most recent citations could trigger greater attention to forklift operations at other USPS and even other companies’ facilities because the Iowa distribution center citations follow similar citations last year for unsafe forklift operations at a USPS facility in Federal Way, Wash.
A similar pattern of scissor lift violations caused OSHA to issue to issue a hazard alert outlining employers’ obligations and preventive measures regarding that type of equipment.
“Each year, thousands of workers are injured—some fatally—while operating forklifts,” notes Larry Davidson, OSHA’s area director in Des Moines. “Employers with workers who move materials with forklifts must ensure loads are stable and pathways are clear to prevent injury.”
Last October OSHA imposed $80,000 in penalties for safety violations at a USPS facility in Greenville, S.C., including forklift safety violations stemming from allowing employees to operate forklifts without using seatbelts, and for exposing employees to struck-by hazards by blocking and restricting traffic flow in aisles shared by lift trucks and other workers.
In 2013 USPS only managed to avoid penalties totaling $3 million imposed by OSHA for violations of electrical work hazards found at 42 of its centers when it agreed to a settlement with the agency and the American Postal Workers Union.
On its website OSHA offers employers guidance on proper operation of lift trucks along with links to training resources.