Postal Service Allegedly Accountable for Carrier’s Heat-related Death

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The U.S. Postal Service allegedly failed to protect its letter carriers during last summer’s intense heat, leading to the death of a mailman in Independence, according to a federal investigation.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration offered a $70,000 fine against the Postal Service for the death of 57-year-old John Watzlawick, who collapsed on his route after he insisted the day before to be sent home because he was feeling ill from the heat.

According to Charles Adkins, OSHA’s regional administrator in Kansas City, the employer failed to take proactive steps for workers safety in extreme heat conditions. This incident may have been avoided if precautions such as training the workers to recognize the symptoms of a heat stroke and that access to water, rest, and shade were ensured.

Dan Pittman, a national business agent for the National Association of Letter Carriers, responded to this matter and said that the union expects the Postal Service to take corrective action. “They’ve got to put some policies and procedures in place to prevent this from happening again.”

The area was under multiple heat advisories and warnings during last summer. The high temperature on July 24th was 104 degrees downtown. John Watzlawick, from Blue Springs, was feeling ill in the triple-digit heat the day before he died and asked his employers at the Harry S. Truman postal branch for permission to end his shift early. His request was denied, said his wife, Kay Watzlawick.

The next day, the 28-year Postal Service veteran, collapsed just before 3 p.m. on his route on South Cottage Avenue. The Jackson County medical examiner reported that John Watzlawick died of hyperthermia, or heat-related illness. He had a body temperature of 108 degrees, which is 10 degrees above normal, when he was brought to the emergency room. The coroner said that a heart attack could possibly be the secondary cause of death.

A statement from OSHA said that the Postal Service “did not have procedures in place to address worker concerns during times of excessive heat.”

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