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Terminated UPS OSHA Safety Settlement Extended Industry-Wide

Sept. 16, 2019, 5:33 PM

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration terminated a corporate-wide settlement agreement with United Parcel Service, Inc. over how the agency handles blocked pathways in crowded warehouses and is replacing it with a new agreement that will affect the entire industry, including shipping giants FedEx and DHL.

A Bloomberg Law records request produced documents that showed a federal safety regulator replaced the UPS agreement with a memo to regional OSHA administrators that guides them to extend inspections of warehouses at companies to the entire “Courier and Express Delivery Services” industry.

The designation does not include Amazon.com, Inc., which is considered an e-commerce company. Amazon has been increasingly getting into the package delivery business.

The guidance instructs OSHA to request documentation from employers and interview workers if the company has not complied with clearance requirements along exit routes. OSHA’s area director is given the authority to determine whether a citation is appropriate, the memo states.

Egress issues, or blocking pathways to exits, are the greatest hazard for workers in the package transport business, according to OSHA. Workers at UPS have told Bloomberg Law that cluttered boxes that fall from constantly moving conveyor belts pile up and block exits and pathways that contribute to a variety of bodily injuries which are an inevitable part of handling thousands of packages a day.

A March Bloomberg Law analysis outlined how UPS was the biggest egress violator out of its competitors. OSHA data shows that since 2009, UPS has been hit with more than twice as many citations for blocking exits than its rival, FedEx Corp.

In January, the company was hit with repeat citations and a more than $200,000 fine for allegedly repeatedly obstructing exit routes at its Sharonville, Ohio, distribution center. Those citations are under contest.

And as recently as February 2019, OSHA put the company on notice for being out of compliance with the parties’ 2009 settlement agreement.

“During interviews with OSHA, most employees stated that they brought up concerns to their supervisors with delayed or no actions taken,” states a letter to UPS Safety and Health manager Tracey Chute in Manchester New Hampshire.

Distribution centers in Illinois, Georgia, and New Jersey have also been cited for similar violations, according to OSHA documents.

The Memo’s Effect

UPS came to a corporate-wide settlement with OSHA in 2009 after agency officials discovered exit and entry egress violations in locations across the country. It has remained in place for more than 10 years.

“In the Memorandum, OSHA signaled their intention to enforce those provisions to all facilities that fall under “Couriers and Express Delivery Services,” thus providing for a level playing field amongst all of the employers in this industry,” said Matthew O’Connor, a UPS spokesman.

“OSHA reiterated that it would apply the enforcement standards identically as it had in the UPS CSA (corporate-wide settlement agreement).”

Terms of the agreement include: OSHA will not cite employers if they have established and enforced written job methods that address where packages must be placed temporarily and how they conduct operations involving the loading and unloading of a trailer, straight truck, package car, or other vehicle.

“Under no circumstances may packages, material equipment, trailers, or other vehicles be placed in font of an exit door or at the top or bottom of a stairway that is part of an exit access,” the memo reads.

The average number of workers in the courier service industry in the first quarter of 2019 was more than 683,000 people, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

To contact the reporter on this story: Fatima Hussein in Washington at fhussein@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Dunbar at jdunbar@bloomberglaw.com