Does UPS Hide Hazardous Accidents?

UPS Teamsters are familiar with the image of managers scurrying to cover logos on UPS trucks to prevent the public and media knowing that a UPS vehicle was involved in an accident.

Could UPS be applying the same secrecy to incidents involving hazardous materials in an effort to skirt federal reporting requirements?

An investigation indicates that UPS in 2004 failed to properly report a number of incidents, including one involving a serious fire:

On June 22, 2004, a mercury spill resulted in the evacuation of 429 workers at the Hunt Valley UPS facility near Baltimore.

On Nov. 9, 2004, numerous UPS workers at the Greenville, S.C. facility were sent to the hospital after an unknown chemical caused severe skin irritation. At the hospital they were put in quarantine. Part of the center was shut down. The substance was later determined to be a commercial dye.

On Dec. 16, 2004, a fire broke out at the CACH UPS facility near Chicago. Numerous trailers caught fire and over 1,000 employees were evacuated. Some workers were taken to the hospital.

During 2004 UPS did report numerous other incidents. The Department of Transportation, however, does little to determine the accuracy of reporting overall.

Reporting Is Required

Federal regulations under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act require that carriers give notice by telephone and then by written report of certain hazardous material incidents. Incidents must be reported that involve a fatality or hospitalization, property damage exceeding $50,000, evacuation of the general public for an hour or more, or the shutdown of a traffic artery for an hour or more.

The same regulations require that a carrier submit a detailed written report whenever there is “any unintentional release of a hazardous material during transportation.” Even if a hazardous material is not the cause of a fire, there inevitably will be unintentional releases during fires as a result of damage to packages containing dangerous substances.

Legal Action

UPS management’s inclination to hide, rather than reveal, the truth about incidents has been the subject of recent legal action.

In early 2004 UPS was found guilty of retaliating against a former manager, George T. Luckie, over his insistence that UPS properly investigate and report a serious fire at the Montgomery, Ala., hub. In 2003 OSHA hit UPS with a $70,000 fine for having “deliberately and knowingly removed and/or altered equipment, materials or other evidence” at the scene of a worker fatality in Utah.

All of these incidents indicate that members, stewards and local unions should do everything possible to ensure that UPS is complying with the law. The underreporting of hazardous material incidents can be a means by which corporations can shield themselves from scrutiny. Failure to know about and learn from past incidents can result in even more serious accidents taking place in the future.
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