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Safety Happens

District program reduces accidents

Man carrying mail satchel places envelope in mailbox as others watch
Colleagues observe Salem, OR, Letter Carrier Alden Balnyut as he receives safety training. From left are Salem Letter Carrier Robert Kirtland; Portland, OR, Letter Carrier Eric Matras; Balnyut; and Portland Processing and Distribution Center Clerk Joel Gunderson.

Portland District Manager Bill Schwartz believes that engaged employees are safety-conscious employees.

To help improve the district’s safety culture, Schwartz implemented a program last year to encourage workers to take proactive measures to ensure their well-being.

“We are trying to modify people’s behavior by raising awareness in a positive way,” he said.

Since the Safety Happens initiative began, Portland District has reduced workplace accidents by 24 percent, while motor vehicle accidents are down 16 percent.

Safety Happens includes stand-up talks, workroom gemba walksto identify opportunities for improvement, and special programs on avoiding distracted driving.

“In an effort to improve safety, we strive to understand the problem we are trying to solve. We utilize several techniques to identify where our opportunities exist, then develop strategies to address, abate and resolve unsafe acts and hazards,” Schwartz said.

In addition to reducing accidents, the district improved its performance on the Postal Pulse employee survey last year. Schwartz sees a correlation.

“If you want to improve safety, you have to demonstrate you care,” he said. “Employee engagement must be genuine and consistent, and you have to strive every day to take deliberate safety actions.”

Linda DeCarlo, safety manager at USPS headquarters in Washington, DC, said it’s up to local leaders to implement the types of changes that will foster a safe workplace culture.

“This all boils down to engaging in and maintaining activities that help others achieve our safety goals,” she said.

Joel Gunderson, a clerk at the Portland Processing and Distribution Center, said he likes that the safety team talks about accidents before they happen, not after.

“When they do a heat safety talk, they give us water bottles,” he said. “And they hand out safety vests to those who carry mail to make them more visible, and make sure they have preparedness materials. … They seem to care about us.”

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