Mercury Spill on Ohio Sort Belt Raises Serious Questions

On May 2, when a mercury spill turned up on the main sort belt in the UPS Sharonville Building near Cincinnati, management failed to respond properly. UPS did not secure the area, isolate the spill, inform employees, nor evacuate workers from the spill area. “I always thought the idea was ‘safety first’,” says Local 100 full time steward Sam Bucalo.

Management appeared more concerned about keeping stewards from investigating the situation than about resolving the serious health risk. Both the full time and part time stewards were “taken out of service” the day following the discovery. Management claimed they had everything under control and there was no reason for the stewards to play a role in the situation.

“I was told that UPS had a response plan developed by a corporate committee for mercury spills,” explained Bucalo.

Supervisors may have already known of the mercury spill. Bucalo explained, “I was told that there was no need to shut down the belts because they didn’t know if the leaking package was there that night [when the spill was discovered] or the week before.”

UPS hazardous spill personnel just happened to be in the Sharonville building on May 2.

Following the company’s investigation, and a couple visits from OSHA, the package containing mercury remained unfound. Thus UPS could not determine where the package originated, where it was going, or which belts in the facility could have been contaminated.

Mercury vaporizes at room temperature. Breathing mercury vapors can cause severe damage to the brain, kidneys, liver and nervous system.
UPS Teamsters need to be prepared to deal with a range of hazardous materials turning up at work. Stewards need access to investigate and better assist members. Safety committees with union representation remain our best method for addressing UPS procedures.

Local 100 has filed concerns with the EPA and OSHA. Those investigations are pending. Both the local and the IBT Health & Safety Department are monitoring the Sharonville investigations.

Sam Bucalo, who was off the clock during his investigation as a steward, was terminated for what UPS refers to as “failure to follow instructions.” His reinstatement will be addressed at the UPS State Panel Hearings on June 7.

If you have suggestions for correcting UPS procedures, or if you have observed UPS management covering over hazardous spills or failing to follow “safety first” rules, please contact TDU.

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