I was a USPS letter carrier for 44 years. To protect us from extreme heat, the postal service needs to provide more training and air-conditioned trucks.

Mike Kurz retired this summer after 44 years as a USPS letter carrier.

Rebecca Cook/Reuters

Mike Kurz worked as a USPS letter carrier for 44 years before retiring this May.
Kurz says he experienced varying degrees of heat-related illness throughout his career.
He hopes the USPS improves conditions by providing training and air-conditioned vehicles.

This as-told-to essay is based on a series of conversations with Mike Kurz, a 65-year-old recently-retired USPS city letter carrier from Elizabeth City, North Carolina about heat-related safety for USPS employees. It’s been edited for length and clarity.

When I had to undergo treatment for sepsis in May and take a break from work, I wasn’t planning on retiring from my job as a letter carrier for the US Postal Service. In fact, I planned on staying on for another two or three years.

But I’m glad I did because ever since the beginning of July, temperatures have been in the upper nineties. And in the past couple of years, there’s been a handful of letter carriers who have died from heat-related illness

I worked as a letter carrier for 44 years. Throughout my career, I experienced varying degrees of heat-related illness more times than I can count. I can’t stress enough how bad it gets in the heat.

I learned the signs of heat-related illness, and it saved me 

Throughout my career, I suffered heat-related illness often, with at least one incident every few years. 

My most recent incident of heat-related illness happened over two summers ago, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was delivering mail and had to pull over to go into an air-conditioned church because I was dizzy and nauseous, which are two symptoms associated with heat illness. Plus, it was a day with high heat and humidity — and I had no air conditioning in my truck. 

I always worried during the pandemic. People were secluded in their houses so if I fainted in my truck or while I was walking outside because of the heat, nobody would be out there to actually see it happen.

Thankfully, that never happened, and I didn’t have to go to the hospital that day because I was able to tell the signs before they escalated. I took off the rest of the day and went home. 

But some letter carriers don’t have the same experience I do to recognize the signs. 

Kurz says the USPS should implement further training to keep letter carriers safe in the heat.

Andrew Kelly/Reuters

The USPS must improve their heat safety training and give us air-conditioned trucks

While the USPS has the Heat Illness Prevention Program, we need further education. In order to protect letter carriers from heat-related illness and death, the postal service should improve the quality of their heat-safety training and invite experienced letter carriers like me to lead them.

As the president of my local union branch, I’ve given several talks on heat safety to employees. Having someone like me come in and talk to them — who has on-the-ground experience — rather than reading from a script that comes from national headquarters, would help improve education. Someone like me could elaborate a lot more thanks to on-the-ground experience.

Some national employees were former letter carriers, but people like the current postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, were not. We get blurbs from the national office, but they’re not long enough. And since we’ve had DeJoy as the postmaster, they haven’t explained a lot. 

We also need air-conditioned trucks. Many of our trucks have been in use since 1989 and do not come with air conditioning. I’ve been saying for 25 years we need air conditioning.

The USPS has gotten wise to it and is now building new ones with air conditioning. Several of them are supposed to be electric vehicles or hybrids, too. This will help because letter carriers won’t be dealing with heat from the engine either. 

Letter carriers have to remember their health is more important than the mail

I also tell my fellow letter carriers to use wet towels on their heads and neck to keep cool. I recommend materials like terry, which works best for cooling. I also often brought several bottles of water with me on shift.

In the last 15 years, I’ve had two employees at my union branch go to the hospital for heat-related illness because they worried more about delivering mail.

If it’s between your health and the mail, you should always prioritize your health. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

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