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Examiner
  • Postal Service sanctioned in local letter carrier's death

  • The U.S. Postal Service has been cited and fined for willfully violating work-safety rules in the heat-related death of a local letter carrier last summer.

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  • The U.S. Postal Service has been cited and fined for willfully violating work-safety rules in the heat-related death of a local letter carrier last summer.
    John Watzlawick, 57, of Blue Springs, collapsed on the afternoon of July 24 while carrying mail on his route near Luff Elementary School in southwest Independence. He had been with the Postal Service for 28 years.
    The medical examiner determined that he had a body temperature of 108 degrees when he arrived at the hospital, where he died. The medical examiner said a heart attack was a likely secondary cause of death. The high that day was 103, toward the end of a 13-day stretch in which the high every day was between 97 and 106.
    Today, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the Postal Service did not have procedures in place to address worker concerns about excessive heat. The 42-year-old Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide safe workplaces. “A willful violation,” the agency said today, “is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.”
    Watzlawick’s widow, Kay, said at the time that her husband had been feeling ill from the heat on July 23 and asked to be relieved from work early. She said her husband told her a supervisor said no because he had been on vacation the week before, recovering from a medical procedure on his knee.
    OSHA has cited the Postal Service’s Truman Station on 32nd Street in Independence and proposed penalties of $70,000. The agency said if the Postal Service had trained its workers to recognize symptoms of heat stroke and had made sure employees had water, rest and shade, Watzlawick’s death might have been avoided. The Postal Service has 15 business days to comply with OSHA’s fine, contest its findings or ask for an informal conference with OSHA’s area director in Kansas City.

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