11/20/2012 04:10 EST | Updated 01/20/2013 05:12 EST

Trips, slips and dog bites force posties off the job

Canada Post has recorded more than 3,100 “lost time incidents” for injuries on the job since January 2011 – from slips, trips and falls to animal attacks and workplace violence.

Data obtained by CBC News Network’s Power and Politics following an Access to Information Act request shows urban postal workers have endured the brunt of the injuries. Rural mail carriers account for about 10 per cent of the incidents.

According to the records, there were 1,885 slips, falls, trips and missteps that forced employees off the job between Jan. 1, 2011 and Sept. 26, 2012. There were also 142 animal attacks and 22 incidents of workplace violence.

Canada Post spokesman John Caines said incidents of workplace violence are generally “one-offs.”

“We have a work force of more than 65,000 and creating a workplace that is free from all forms of psychological and physical violence, including intimidation, bullying and harassment, remains a top priority for Canada Post,” he told CBC News.

The lost-time incidents also include accidents with equipment and tools, exposure to harmful materials and psychological reactions.

Pointing to figures in its most recent annual report, Canada Post says the overall number of incidents has declined in the last three years. But the national union representing postal workers says a new delivery model – called a ‘multiple-bundle’ method where carriers carry two bundles in one hand plus oversized flat mail on the forearm – is leading to a dramatic increase in injuries in pilot sites where it has been implemented.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers says letter carriers in Winnipeg working under the “modern post” system were forced off their route with injuries at a rate nearly five times more often than before it was introduced. Female carriers have reported more frequent pain and safety concerns because they have shorter arms, according to the union.

The new system has also been implemented in Edmonton and Halifax and is scheduled to roll out across the country, but two national grievances have been filed to date and the union and employer are now in binding arbitration.

One grievance states that the two-bundle system is “dangerous and is a violation of both the collective agreement and the health and safety provisions of the Canada Labour Code,” according to a newsletter recently circulated to members.

Denis Lemelin, national president of CUPW, expects the rate of injuries will go up because the new work method is “totally unsafe.”

“The letter carrier must have awkward positions all the time and it is difficult for her or him to see where they walk,” he told CBC. “We expect to see the number of injuries skyrocket.”

But Canada Post's John Caines said injury rates have actually decreased in Winnipeg and in the U.S., where letter carriers have been using a similar method for 20 years. He said the move to update equipment and infrastructure about four years ago allows for more mechanical sorting.