A U.S. Postal Service annex in Baltimore's Brooklyn neighborhood has been fined $342,059 by the U.S. Department of Labor for improperly handling workers' exposure to bloodborne pathogens and hazardous materials.
The labor department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Thursday that it cited the Brooklyn South Carrier Annex, at 1500 Cherry Hill Road, on Nov. 22 for one serious, two willful and three repeat health violations.
As part of its mail stream, the post office sometimes handles packages labeled as biological infectious waste, an OSHA spokeswoman said. If not packaged properly, or if they are damaged during sorting, such packages could start to leak and postal workers would be required to respond.
While it's legal to ship hazardous blood through the post office, the shipper and the packaging must meet strict requirements for safety.
"Exposure to bloodborne pathogen hazards can result in serious or life-threatening illnesses," Nadira Janack, director at OSHA's Baltimore area office, said in a statement. "To reduce or eliminate these hazards at USPS's Brooklyn facility, an exposure control plan must be implemented to protect employees and provide a safe and healthy workplace."
OSHA opened its investigation May 24, in response to a complaint that employees had been exposed to blood and other potentially infectious bodily fluids while handling packages labeled as containing biological infectious materials. In that incident, workers were cleaning up a blood spill with hazardous chemicals without a plan for handling such chemicals.
According to the citation, the office did not have written instructions for workers responsible for handling and cleaning up biohazard packages that are stained or leaking. Managers also did not offer hepatitis B vaccines to affected employees.
The office also did not ensure employees were properly trained to handle the chemicals used to clean up the spill and did not maintain proper data safety sheets.
The serious violation relates to an Oct. 27 incident in which workers were exposed to bloodborne pathogens when they had to clean up a blood spill from a package. The gloves workers were given were either too big or too small, and properly sized gloves were not easily accessible, the citation says.
In addition to paying the fine, the post office must correct the problems and submit proof to OSHA.
"Safety and safe work practices are of paramount importance to the Postal Service," Tom Ouellette, a spokesman for the Postal Service, said in a statement. "The citations mentioned were received at the local postal facility just [Wednesday]. We will review OSHA's concerns and where necessary, make adjustments to ensure a safe working environment for our employees."
The Brooklyn office serves as the carrier delivery annex for three ZIP codes — 21225, 21226 and 21230 — an area along the western edge of the Patapsco River that spans South Baltimore to the north and Stoney Beach to the south. The office has 115 employees.
The post office has 15 days after the citation is issued to comply with the penalties, request a conference with an OSHA director or dispute the findings before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent board. The penalty could be reduced during an informal conference or commission hearing.
The local office of the American Postal Workers Union could not be reached for comment.