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Postal Service Nixes Inspections, So OSHA Seeks Warrants (2)

Aug. 11, 2022, 5:14 PMUpdated: Aug. 11, 2022, 8:05 PM

Federal workplace safety inspectors being denied entry into US Postal Service worksites are asking federal judges to issue search warrants to force entry, court documents show.

As recently as Aug. 9, OSHA was turning to district judges to approve inspection warrants following Postal Service officials’ refusal to allow inspections at facilities. In the past six weeks, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has obtained 13 search warrants for Postal Service facilities, according to data requested by Bloomberg Law.

Court records and OSHA data show the warrants cover facilities in several states including California, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and New Mexico.

The agency was responding to complaints about heat and other hazards in the facilities, OSHA’s warrant applications show.

OSHA rarely needs a warrant to enter a workplace. While employers can turn away an inspector and demand the agency get a warrant, typically employers allow inspectors onto a worksite. Small employers unfamiliar with OSHA’s inspection powers are the employers to usually reject inspections, not large multi-state businesses or federal agencies.

The Postal Service and OSHA have been at odds over worker safety. OSHA conducted 233 inspections of Postal Service facilities in 2021 and issued citations in 65 of the cases. In one of the latest cases, a Postal Service attorney rejected an inspection at a Nebraska facility because it would “disrupt operations.”

OSHA specifically included the Postal Service among the industries targeted for inspections in its heat emphasis program because postal workers are frequently outdoors and need protection from heat stress.

The Postal Service has contested some OSHA heat citations, including five cases awaiting a final decision by the independent US Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Postal Service spokesperson Darlene Casey told Bloomberg Law the service doesn’t have a formal policy denying OSHA entry into facilities.

“The Postal Service can and does exercise the right to deny entry when OSHA is unable to explain and identify a reasonable basis for entry into its facilities,” she said, adding that the Postal Service “has never refused to allow OSHA to enter one of our facilities where OSHA has properly obtained a warrant.”

OSHA said its inspections are justified in a written statement to Bloomberg Law .

“OSHA will inspect places of employment where it has probable cause to believe that there are violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and its regulations,” the agency said. “If any employer denies entry, the Solicitor’s office will obtain a warrant, and if it has cause to believe before an inspection that an employer will improperly deny entry, the Solicitor’s office will seek an anticipatory warrant.”

Warrant Requests by State

William McDonald, OSHA area director for eastern Missouri, told a federal judge in an Aug. 9 warrant request that OSHA attempted to inspect a post office in Creve Coeur, Mo., on July 13 following the report of a mail carrier being hospitalized for possible heat stress while delivering mail.

A postal safety official told the inspector that he could only examine records, not inspect the facility, McDonald wrote.

As part of an Aug. 5 warrant request, Assistant US Attorney Matthew Belz told the US District Court for the Eastern District of California that when inspectors on June 30 responded to workers’ heat complaints at a facility in West Sacramento, a Postal Service attorney told the inspector that she would need a search warrant before the inspection could begin.

And Nicolas Senior, OSHA’s assistant area director for Nebraska, told a judge in a July 20 warrant application that an inspector was denied entry to a large postal facility in Lincoln on June 22 following worker complaints about heat, asbestos exposure, and lack of access to water and restrooms.

(Updated with OSHA comments in 11th and 12th paragraphs; Adds information on 13 warrants in second paragraph)

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at BRolfsen@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Genevieve Douglas at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com