September 21, 2016 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 0Comment

The temperature yesterday in Austin, TX was 97 and the heat index was 104. My USPS mail carrier was feeling the heat in more ways than one.

As is the case most mornings, we exchange waves with each other. He begins his rounds in my neighborhood around 8 am and I’m using walking 12 year-old Laredo, our golden retriever. Laredo and I walked passed his mail truck. I noticed a white sedan stopped behind it. When the mail truck proceeded to the next mail box, the sedan followed slowing behind it. The person driving the sedan was wearing a neon safety vest.  I wondered, “management monitoring his work?”

A couple of hours later, the mail carrier drove up to my mailbox which I can see from my office window. Behind his mail truck was the white sedan.

My mail carrier was taking a little longer than normal to place the mail in our box. That’s usually a sign that he also has a package to deliver. I hopped out of my chair and out the front door to intercept him, hoping to prevent him from having to schlep up the walkway to our front door. I succeeded and met him just as he got out of his truck. The air was hot. The temperature was approaching the day’s high of 97 degrees.

Curious about my mail carrier’s tailgater, I asked jokingly, “do you know there’s a white car following you around the neighborhood?”  With sweat dripping down from his brow, he mildly rolled his eyes and said, “Oh yeah. That’s my supervisor.”

“Huh?” I mumbled.

“They’re monitoring me today,” he groaned. “He’s following me in his air conditioned car. I’m driving this truck with no AC.”

The stress of being closely monitoring by your employer is taxing enough, but why would a manager do it on a day with blistering heat? It’s not as if the US Postal Service isn’t familiar with mail carriers suffering from heat-related illness and death.  The institution was held responsible for the policies and practices that led to the death of John A. Watzlawick, 57, in July 2012 and the heat-related injuries of three other postal workers. An administrative law judge upheld a $70,000 OSHA penalty against the USPS and chastising the organization for their disregard for their employees’ lives. Judge Peggy Ball wrote:

“From the very top of the management chain down to the floor supervisor, the message was clear: heat is not an excuse for performance issues.”

She referred to sworn testimony and emails to staff which indicated:

“…heat does not matter and that employees should be able to perform within their expected delivery parameters regardless of the weather.”

The USPS gives lip service to heat hazards. Under its slogan “Safety depends on ME,” they say “Beat the heat, stay cool.” They offer “quick tips for battling the heat,” such as

  • Dress appropriately [but are the required uniforms designed for 100 degree heat?]
  • Stay hydrated [but don’t interrupt your deliveries to find a bathroom]
  • Use shade to cool down [but don’t interrupt deliveries to rest under a shade tree]
  • Notify your supervisor if you’re experiencing signs of heat-related illness

I wonder if they’d add this one:

Drive your supervisor’s air conditioned sedan on the days that he wants to monitor your work.

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