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The Boston Globe: “Post Office raises flag to salute improved safety record”

ACTON – Mean dogs, angry bees, and icy roads are just some of the hazards mail delivery workers face daily.

Still, those who work at the Acton Post Office can consider themselves lucky – the injury rate there is 80 percent lower than the industry average, according to Ted Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the US Department of Labor, which recognized the branch as one of the safest places to work in the state with a flag-raising ceremony on Thursday.

The Post Office was accepted into the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s Voluntary Protection Program, which recognizes worksites that put in place proactive safety programs that go beyond OSHA standards and involve both employees and management.

To earn the honor, the Acton office redrew mail delivery routes a year ago so that mail trucks could avoid left-hand turns, eliminating between 30 and 40 left turns, said Acton postmaster Dennis Mahoney.

Mahoney said it is particularly hard for mail trucks to turn left because the driver sits on the right side of the vehicle, like in British cars that drive on the left side of the road. All mail trucks are built this way, Mahoney said, because if the truck driver sat on the left, he or she would have to get out at every mailbox or drive on the wrong side of the street.

The Post Office also cut down on the number of rear-end collisions by equipping all of its 23 vehicles with bright yellow flashing hazard lights.

Without the lights, the white mail trucks were sometimes hard to spot in snowy weather, said Acton letter carrier Ralph Higgins, who is chairman of the Post Office’s health, safety, and security committee.

While Acton mail vehicles were rear-ended six times in the winter of 2005-2006, not a single rear-end collision took place last winter after the lights were installed, Higgins said.

The Post Office now also provides training to employees on how to properly lift and move heavy objects, and there has been only one back injury in the past three years and only one shoulder injury in five years, Higgins said. CPR and first-aid training is also offered to the branch’s 52 employees.

The safety improvement ideas originated in monthly committee meetings that bring postal workers and management together to discuss health and safety issues and to review records of injuries and accidents and look for ways to minimize them.

“It was truly a team effort and spearheaded by the employees. Without their support and effort it wouldn’t have gotten done,” Mahoney said. Left-hand turns were eliminated, for example, because the committee decided they were dangerous, he said.

To celebrate the recognition, the Acton Post Office is issuing a special cancellation stamp. The cancellation incorporates the logo of the US Postal Service and the Voluntary Protection Program, and the words “Flag Raising Ceremony Station” and “Gold Award Aug. 16, 2007, Acton, MA 01720.”

Despite the safety improvements, an Acton mail delivery vehicle was involved in an accident last Monday, when a car had its mirror broken after the driver misjudged the distance from a parked mail truck.

“Fortunately, no one was injured,” Mahoney said.

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