ST. JOHN'S (Canadian OH&S News)
With night falling earlier during the winter months, the approximately 100 postal workers on the Rock are asking homeowners to shine a little light on their property, in the interest of safety.
When the clocks were set back an hour on Nov. 4, mail carriers in St. John’s, Newfoundland launched the “Porch Light for Posties” initiative, which asks residents of the capital city and surrounding area to leave their porch lights on in the evening so workers will have an easier time navigating the way from the street to their houses.
“We’ve got driveways that are 600 feet, we’ve got houses that are one foot off the curb,” said Craig Dyer, spokesperson for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers Local 126, noting the danger slips, falls and obstacles left on pathways present to workers.
This is the first year for the campaign in St. John’s, but the idea started in 2010 by the Winnipeg local after Canada Post introduced the postal transformation sequencing technology as part of an infrastructure renewal — the source of many new problems postal workers are now facing on the job, the union said.
“Our equipment was on its last legs. One of our machines in Montreal was operating on eight-inch floppy disks,” said Anick Losier, a spokesperson for Canada Post in Ottawa. The corporation began retrofitting mail sorting depots across the country with new machines that could automatically sort most of the mail, leaving only the larger envelopes to be hand-sorted by postal workers when they started their shift in the morning.
“That gave us an opportunity to change how we delivered the mail,” Losier said, noting that more than 90 depots have been moved to the new system, representing more than 1,000 workers and 2.7 million addresses.
With the new system, instead of having one depot for 60 letter carriers, the same facility is now used for up to 120. This means that there are now two waves of carriers, the second starting about two hours after the first wave and therefore ending their days later, when it is darker out.
In St. John’s, about 40 per cent of workers now begin their day at 9 a.m., and the rest start at 11 a.m., explained Dyer, who delivers in the first wave.
“We do understand that part of our job may be, on given days, to deliver mail in the dark, but for the most part, for my 24 years and for the history of the Canada Post, most carriers got off in the daylight hours,” he said, adding that the corporation could have flipped the schedules so more workers started on the earlier shift, leaving less workers out in the dark, but they decided against it. “That’s 16 more people not jeopardizing their health on a daily basis during the wintertime.”
Denis Lemelin, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said that the porch light campaign helps to remind homeowners that postal workers will be coming up to their houses in the dark, making it less likely that the workers could be wrongly harassed.
But many of the issues that have cropped up from the postal transformation sequencing are growing pains that come with an overhaul to work processes and schedules, said Losier.
“If you’ve been doing the same job for 20, 30 years in some cases and have been doing it the same way for all that time, and all of a sudden your employer says you have to change it, you have to adapt and it takes time,” she said, adding that workers are provided with crampons to strap to their boots in icy conditions, headlamps — which Dyer argued the focused beam does not do an adequate job — and with the new system more workers are taking trucks, which protect them from the elements.
“We’re trying to be more efficient. To do anything that would hurt our employees would be incredibly inefficient for us. Lost-time injuries cost more money to an organization and slows down process and production.”