Was failure of methane detection system at Pontiac plant related to 5 employee deaths?

The USPS Inspector General has issued a report detailing the failure of the methane detection system (MDS) at the Pontiac, Michigan processing center. The OIG investigation was prompted by a complaint which “identified five employee deaths during a 14 month period”. The OIG report says “We have not correlated these deaths to the safety concern at this time, but are continuing work in this area. However, we are reporting this issue with the methane detection system for your immediate action.”

uspsoigThe Pontiac facility is situated on a “brownfields” site, which was formerly the location of a vehicle manufacturing plant that included a foundry. Among the numerous hazardous substances underneath the building are some that can produce poisonous, explosive methane gas. The building was designed so that any methane entering the building would be vented away, and a warning system (the MDS) was installed to monitor methane levels. The MDS was originally maintained by a contractor. In October 2014, the local USPS maintenance staff took over the management of the MDS system. Five months later, in March 2015, the system stopped working properly.

The OIG report says “Based on our observations and review of the MDS log book, the methane detection system has not functioned properly since March 2015.” It also says that USPS management agreed with the OIG findings and recommendations, but “stated there were never health concerns regarding the employees at the Michigan Metroplex.” The report doesn’t explain how management could have known that, given the lack of a functioning detection system.

The OIG recommended that USPS management:

1. Complete a review of the methane detection system to resolve any issues.
2. Establish an ongoing process to independently validate the results of the methane detection system on a periodic basis.

Management agreed with the recommendations, but said that the review would not be completed until May 31, 2016, while the target date for independently validating the MDS system is October 31, 2016.