Sunday, August 24, 2014

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 injuries. A new report suggests they may be right.

"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.

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22 comments:

Anonymous said...

The report stated that costs are up, it did not say injuries are increasing. Since injured employees stay on the workers comp roles any new injuries add to the cumulative annual costs. So injuries could be going down while cost are going up. The report did not speak to increases or deceases in the number of injuries.

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that the average age of a letter carrier is 51 - 52 ???

Anonymous said...

I read someplace that the average age of a letter carrier is 51 - 52 ??

@drymailman said...

Yes .

Anonymous said...

The report tells us:

Claims in 2008 - 53,604
Claims in 2013 - 43,650 - decrease of about 19%

Number of employees in 2008 - 765,088
Number of employees in 2013 - 617,714 - decrease of 19%

[now - this tells me that the number of claims are holding about the same as in the past - but, one would think that with a decrease of employees this large the number of claims would decrease much more than what is shown]

Cost of workers' compensation in 2008 - about $1 billion
Cost of workers' compensation in 2013 - about $1.3 billion - increase of 35%

Does anyone think maybe the cost of medical care attributed to the increase in cost of workers' compensation? I think maybe...yes.

Anonymous said...

As a 20 plus year carrier I can speak directly to this. I just suffered the first injury of my career. Two meniscus tears with some hairline tears. Sprained MCL and a bone bruise. All wear and tear from the job. I can guarantee that in my 20 years I have more miles on my joints than somebody who retire with 35 in at anytime. When I first came in you had 4 and a half in the street and maybe an hour ot a day a few days a week. Wirk your day off 1 time in 6 weeks. Now with pivoting and OT. 10 actual hours walking is more of the norm. This is the reason and the routes certainly are much longer now than they were then as well.

Anonymous said...

Let's see ... rolling stock that doesn't roll without excessive force ... mail processing equipment ("piecart trays") that require back-wrenching force to open and close, fall on your foot, or both ... "repaired" trays that fall apart when loaded with mail ... failure to maintain and repair equipment because "we don't have parts" "we don't have money" and/or "we're closing down" ... gee, I can't imagine why there would be more injuries ...

Anonymous said...

I have just retired after 40 years as a carrier.During those years I had a couple of pinched disks, and I had surgery on both elbows & a rotator cuff.And my Dept of Labor nurse commented I was pretty lucky.Others employees could fill a novel with on the job injuries.

Anonymous said...

Shut the organization down and convert offices into homes for homeless veterans.

D. Eadward Tree said...

Regarding some of the comments: The number of claims dropped by 19% from FY2008 to FY2009 (a suspiciously large decrease -- Was someone's bonus at stake?) and have remained virtually constant every year since then despite continuing decreases in the postal workforce. The report provides no information on whether the severity of injuries has changed. What it does show is that workers compensation costs are rising despite workforce cuts and that no one seems to be listening to what the front-line employees are saying about why those costs are rising. (Yes, medical inflation is a factor.)

WA State slave said...

I am a city carrier currently on WC because the GD supervisors overpiled the flat buckets to report 'less' office time. I lifted with my knees and twisted to dump the mail on to my workstation for sorting... 2 surgeries later and I'm still not healed.

Anonymous said...

As the work environment deteriorates, so does every other aspect of the job! Duh!

Dan Shapiro said...

It is a medical fact that High impact loading and repetitive local stress activities, especially when combined with weight (such as a 35 lb. mail satchel) lead to severe arthritis of the weight bearing joints, i.e. hips and knees. it is also a biomechanical fact that when going up stairs your knees and hips are loaded three times body weight and when going downstairs your knees and hips are loaded six times body weight. so, a letter carrier satchel adds almost 200 pounds of effective weight when a letter carrier goes downstairs. Virtually every letter carrier in their 50s or 60s will end up with bad arthritis of the hips or knees and the incidence of hip and knee replacement amongst letter carriers is of epidemic proportions. The USPS has brought this upon themselves by not issuing pushcarts to every letter carrier and by imposing unrealistic delivery requirements that often times four's city letter carriers to go up and down 2500 stairs a day carrying the mail on their back. It is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

The first sentence of the article ends with "more job-related industries." Industries, instead of injuries. Is Dead Tree a blogger or a professional news writer?

D. Eadward Tree said...

To Anonymous (comment #14): Thanks for the free editing. I read over that first sentence many times but didn't see that error.

Anonymous said...

As a worker in a plant I can say for sure its the loss of full time employees who are replaced with part timers that is part of the problem. Instead of hiring one for one replacements, the USPS is trying to stick the current employees with doing the work of those who left. It doesn't work to try and have one person to do two and three jobs. Eventually a lot more people will get hurt because of the USPS mentality of having one person do more than the work of one person.

Anonymous said...

The OIG says that cost for workers pay is up compared to other companies. What company does the same job? FedEx and UPS handle parcels only, when they can't deliver it, they take it to the post office. Only the post office is required to deliver to every address is the country. The worst year of the economy over 500,000 new addresses were added to the system. The highest number was 1.2 million new addresses. The average is around 750,000 per year.

Anonymous said...

Rest assured, none of those injured come from the bloated ranks of the do nothing, corrupt, stealing mgmt. employees.

Anonymous said...

I have seen management hire a lot of mega-obese carriers since the new contract. I am extremely fit and I can barely stand the rigors of the job. I look at some of them and I know they are destined for management. But in the mean time how much will they cost the postal service. There needs to be some form of physical fitness exam in the application process to keep out these fatties.

Darlene Casey, USPS Corporate Communications, 475 L'Enfant Plz SW, Washington DC 20260-3100 said...

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.

Anonymous said...

You know what reform means, coded for reduced benefits and compensation.

A.M.Diamond said...

One way the USPS is cutting down the cost of OWCP claims is by denying most injuries immediately. Whether they are valid or not. They then send the employee through a process that lasts long enough for most employees to give up on. I am in one of these situations as we speak. Two years in and I'm still trying to resolve a back injury claim that everyone agrees happened (Doctors, management and even the hearing examiner). The issue is not my injury but, can the USPS get out of paying my LOST WAGES because I followed the advice of my immediate supervisor and used the wrong form to file the claim. I now have the burden of proving my injury was new as apposed to recurring. This tactic has been used numerous times since the all out assault on cost of OWCP claims in the USPS has been declared!