The cost of workers’ compensation for the United States Postal Service (USPS) for fiscal year 2012 was $3.7 billion, a 68 percent increase from the $2.2 billion reported in fiscal year 2009.
There were 32,213 reported injuries in fiscal year 2012, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that provides a look into the worker injuries and their costs inside the financially-strapped postal service.
According to USPS officials, USPS employee injuries are largely due to the often physically demanding, industrial, and highly repetitive nature of their work.
From 2009 through 2012, an average of 34,000 postal workforce injuries were reported each year, about 13,000 of which were attributed to mail delivery. USPS’s OSHA illness and injury rate for all USPS employees in 2012 was 5.44 per 100 employees.
According to USPS, its injury rates have declined over the last decade due to emphasis on safety by employees and management. However, despite recent declines in USPS’s OSHA illness and injury rate, the Congressional Research Service reported that USPS employees are injured on the job at rates disproportionate to the rest of the federal government. For example, although USPS employees make up about 22 percent of the federal workforce, they are responsible for about 39 percent of the injuries, illnesses, and fatalities in fiscal year 2012.
Like other federal agencies, USPS pays its workers’ compensation costs through the federal workers’ compensation program administered by the Department of Labor.
The GAO reports says that USPS mail carriers–who delivered mail to nearly 132 million delivery points in fiscal year 2012–can be injured while delivering mail by being bitten by a dog, falls to the ground, being involved in a vehicle collision and other ways.
According to USPS officials, 36 percent of the 32,213 reported injuries in fiscal year 2012 were related to mail delivery. The most frequently reported cause of injury for routes that are primarily conducted on foot is dog bites, while the most frequently reported cause of injury for delivery on rural routes–which is often conducted in vehicles–is vehicular collisions.
Most injuries that occurred from 2009 through 2012 on mail delivery routes were caused by falls and dog bites. Falls to the ground were among the most common circumstances leading to injury that resulted in either restricted work activity or days away from work, but repetitive motions were the most common cause of long-term occupational illnesses regardless of severity or route type.
The Federal Employees’ Compensation Act provides for cash and medical benefits to eligible federal employees who suffer temporary or permanent disabilities resulting from work-related injuries, including traumatic injuries or occupational illnesses.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Division of Federal Employees’ Compensation in the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs administers the FECA program and charges federal agencies for which the injured employees worked for the benefits provided to those injured employees. According to GAO, a large proportion of FECA beneficiaries were employed by USPS at the time of their injury—43 percent of 2010 FECA beneficiaries were USPS employees, accounting for more than 130,000 employees.
GAO says that USPS has aggressively pursued the return of employees to work as soon as possible as a means to help employees recover more quickly and stay up-to-date with workplace changes, and to reduce USPS’s costs for workers’ compensation.
USPS noted in its fiscal year 2011 annual report that occupational-related injury rates were reduced by almost 50 percent over the previous 10 years. USPS’s reported illness and injury rate—an indicator of an agency’s safety record as reported to OSHA—has changed only slightly over the last few years.
USPS is in a serious financial crisis and has not generated sufficient revenue to cover its expenses and financial obligations as mail volume continues to decline. In April 2013, USPS reported that mail volume was down 25 percent that, despite regular price increases, annual revenue had declined by about $10 billion since fiscal year 2007.
According to USPS, the agency needs to save up to $20 billion annually over the next five years to help it regain financial self-sufficiency.
In its five- year business plan, USPS proposed initiatives to help it achieve these cost savings, nearly half of which, according to USPS, will require legislative action. Some of the USPS-proposed initiatives focus on mail delivery, which is USPS’s largest expense, costing about $23 billion and representing about 49 percent of USPS’s personnel costs for fiscal year 2012. For example, USPS proposed delivery-related cost savings initiatives, including expanding the centralization of delivery points, to help save $1.0 billion in 2014.
Recent legislative proposals for postal reform in both the House of Representatives and the Senate also consider provisions that include the expansion of centralized delivery points to achieve cost savings.