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Widow of North Texas postal worker who died of heat-related illness says not enough is done to keep workers safe

Widow of North Texas postal worker who died of heat-related illness says not enough is done to keep
Widow of North Texas postal worker who died of heat-related illness says not enough is done to keep 02:23

DALLAS — The widow of a Dallas postal worker who died of a heat-related illness said that the U.S. Postal Service is not doing enough to keep workers safe.

Eugene Gates Jr. collapsed last year while delivering mail on a day when the heat index reached 113 degrees. A year later, his widow worries that it will happen again if something doesn't change. 

It's been a full year of firsts for Carla Gates without her husband Eugene by her side.

"He was my best friend. And living alone, going through life without him, it's a totally different feeling," she said.

A 36-year veteran mail carrier, the medical examiner ruled that Gates died from the heat and heart disease. His wife said the vehicle he was driving that day was not air-conditioned.

"They have a multi-billion dollar industry, and they are not looking out for the welfare of their employees," she said. "I want the world to know that the Postal Service did not care about their employees at all." 

OSHA fined the U.S. Postal Service more than $15,000 for not protecting Gates from the heat. The citation lists recommended measures, including earlier start times and a heat acclimatization plan. But Kimetra Lewis with the National Association of Letter Carriers said there has been no systemic change. And that fine is still pending. 

"Safety should always come first. And I just feel like the Postal Service hadn't put a priority to it," Lewis said. "And I'm worried and concerned that the same things that occurred last year will reoccur this year." 

That's Gates' concern as well. And she said she'll be the voice her husband can't be to prevent it.

"I'm just praying that someone, someone will listen and open up the doors of heaven to say, 'Okay, we get it now. Something is wrong.'"

On Tuesday morning, the USPS sent the following statement in response to a request for comment:

Our carriers deliver the mail throughout the year during varying temperatures and climatic conditions. This includes during the summer months when the temperatures rise throughout the country. The safety of our employees is a top priority, and the U.S. Postal Service has implemented a national Heat Illness Prevention Program (HIPP) for all employees. In connection with the HIPP, the Postal Service provides mandatory heat-related and other safety training and instruction to all employees and assures they have the resources needed to do their jobs safely. Carriers are reminded to ensure they're hydrated, wear appropriate clothing, including hats, get in the shade whenever possible, and to take sufficient amounts of water and ice with them out on their routes. Carriers are further instructed to contact 9-1-1 in the event they begin experiencing any symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, and they are provided with information to help them identify the symptoms associated with these two forms of heat illness. 

The HIPP is triggered during the period of April 1 through October 31 and at any other time when weather reports issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) for a particular work location indicate that the outdoor heat index temperatures are expected to exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the course of a workday or work shift. The Postal Service requires annual completion of a training course on heat stress by all employees in every facility.

For FY 2024, the Postal Service has expanded the reach of its HIPP by adding the HIPP training to new employee orientation to ensure we reach all new employees with this critical information in the event their assigned units have already received the annual HIPP training before they start work for the Postal Service.

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