Loss Control TIPS Technical Information Paper Series Innovative Safety and Health Solutions
Safety in Mail Operations Recent events, in which postal mail has been used to introduce harmful substances into workplaces and government offices, have raised awareness of the need for caution in handling mail and packages. Although the risk of receiving a contaminated letter or package is remote, it is important that everyone know how to recognize a suspicious letter or package, what to do if a suspicious item is received, and how to work with authorities to respond safely. Include mail operations in your facility’s emergency preparedness plan, and teach your employees how to protect themselves, their co-workers, and your facilities from suspicious or problem letters or packages. (Note: This information does not address response to letter bombs, which may require a different response than potentially contaminated letters and packages. Refer to The Hartford’s TIPS on Preparing for and Responding to Bomb Threats and Letter Bombs for specific guidance.)
Include Mail Operations in Your Emergency Preparedness Plan If you haven’t done so already, develop an Emergency Preparedness Plan (EPP), which includes policies, procedures, and resources for preparation, response, and recovery from real and threatened emergencies. Include provisions for security of mail operations, such as: Train your security personnel and staff who handle mail to respond appropriately and safely to suspicious mail (details below). Keep employees, emergency responders, and community officials informed of your emergency preparedness plans so that affected individuals and organizations can act effectively should the need arise. Establish procedures to authorize, initiate, and accomplish evacuation, sheltering, and personnel accountability. Hold evacuation drills regularly so that all occupants will be familiar with evacuation routes and routines. Review security policies and procedures to ensure that problem mail situations are taken into consideration.
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Take steps to secure your organization’s mail facilities: Centralize the mail function, and locate it away from other work areas. Limit access to the mailroom to authorized, trained staff. Post "Authorized Personnel Only" signs on mail room doors. Keep doors locked as much as possible (without compromising life safety). Require deliveries to be made to a single, secure area. Do not allow drivers or delivery workers to enter your facility. Maintain a sign-in sheet, including the times of the peoples’ arrivals and departures. Escort visitors to and from their destinations. Train mailroom personnel how to recognize and respond to suspicious packages Provide training to non-mailroom staff in other departments who screen, sort, or distribute mail. Instruct all employees to report any suspicious mail or packages, including special deliveries. Conduct background checks for all new employees. Encourage employees to notify managers if other employees fail to adhere to established mail center procedures. Use care in cleaning and maintaining equipment and facilities. For example, do not use pressurized air to clean mail handling equipment or facilities, as this may disperse dust and potential contaminants. Consider using a vacuum system equipped with HEPA filtration. (HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air. By definition, a HEPA filter must be capable of capturing 99.97% of particles as small as .3 microns. A micron is about 1/100th the width of a human hair. An anthrax spore is in the 1-5 micron range.)
Implement General Precautions for Safe Mail Handling Even in times when bioterrorism is not a threat, train employees to follow these general precautions: Be on the lookout for suspicious letters or packages (see below). Do not eat, drink, or smoke when handling or processing mail. You may inadvertently transfer contaminants to your mouth, nose, or eyes. Wash your hands with warm soap and water before and after handling the mail. Consider wearing disposable gloves when you handle incoming mail. Disposable gloves made of light-weight nitrile or vinyl protect hands from contact with potentially contaminated dusts without compromising dexterity. A thin cotton glove can be worn inside a disposable glove to protect against dermatitis, which can occur from prolonged exposure of the skin to moisture in gloves caused by perspiration. (Dermatitis can cause breaks in the skin.) Commonly available “dust masks” or “respirators” are not effective against biological contaminants. (Respiratory protection equipment should only be used when it is part of an overall occupational health program that includes training, fit testing, and appropriate decontamination procedures. Consult an industrial hygienist or safety professional for guidance.) Learn how to respond and who to contact if you should receive a suspicious letter or package (see below).
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How To Identify Suspicious Packages and Letters Look for suspicious packages and letters, or unexpected or unusual mailings. Look for abnormalities in: To Whom It Is Addressed Addressed to someone who is no longer with your organization Addressed to a specific position or title, but without a name Addressed to an incorrect title, Addressed to an outdated address From Whom It Is Addressed Sent from someone unfamiliar to you Lacking a return address Having a return address that can't be verified as legitimate Showing a city or state in the postmark that does not match the return address Sent from any location reported to have been the source of recent problem items Sent from a foreign country (if you do not normally receive international mail) How it is Addressed Marked with restrictive endorsements ("Personal," "Confidential," “To Be Opened By Addressee Only,” “Private,” “Special Delivery,” “Air Mail,” “Foreign Mail”) Handwritten; poorly written or poor handwriting Labels of cut-and-paste letters Poorly typed Misspelled (especially names or common words) Having a suspicious, threatening, or cautionary message on the outside (“Anthrax,” “Watch Out,” “Important Security Information” “Caution,” “Fragile,” Do Not Delay,” “Handle With Care,” “Rush”) How it is Packaged Including a threatening or nonsensical message or letter Secured with an unusual amount of tape or string Mailed with excessive postage Mailed with stamps rather than metered postage (metered postage is customary for business mail) Messily sealed or wrapped Holes in envelope or wrapping How it Looks Showing any powdery substance on the outside Lopsided, uneven, or oddly shaped Having soft spots or bulges Rigid, bulky, or lumpy envelope or package Showing protruding wires or aluminum foil Having visual distractions (drawings, unusual statements, hand-drawn postage)
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How it Feels Unusual weight, given its size Strange odors Oily stains or other discoloration Excessive weight Ticking sound Not all elements may apply to every package; problem items may not display any suspicious elements.
If You Receive or See a Suspicious Letter or Package What To Do With the Suspicious Item Do not handle the suspicious mail piece or package. Just set it down gently. Do not try to open the item! You may spill or disperse contaminants contained within the letter or package. In addition, a letter bomb may be triggered by a pressure release activated when the package is opened or when a string is cut. If you have already opened the item, do not empty it or try to look inside. Do not shake the item. Do not walk around with the item. Isolate the item; keep it away from people, and keep people away from it. Do not put it into an enclosed space (such as a drawer or cabinet) or under water. Do not discard the item or any packing, notes, etc.. The proper authorities (probably law enforcement officials) will remove the letter/package safely. If any substance leaks or spills, do not touch, taste, smell, or try to analyze the substance. If any substance leaks or spills from the item, do not try to clean it up. Cover the spilled contents immediately with anything (e.g., clothing, paper, trash can, etc.) and do not remove this covering. What To Do To Secure The Area Make sure that damaged or suspicious packages are isolated. Isolate the specific area of the workplace so that no one disturbs the item. Evacuate the immediate area. (Evacuation of the entire workplace is not necessary at this point.) Leave the room and close the door. Alert others to stay away from the area. If any substance has leaked or spilled onto you or others, remove any contaminated clothing as soon as possible and place in a plastic bag, or in some other container that can be sealed. Give this clothing bag or container to the emergency responders for proper handling. If you think the room or area may have been contaminated by aerosolization (for example: if a small device was triggered, or if you receive a warning that air handling system is contaminated, or a warning that a biological agent was released in a public space): Turn off local fans or ventilation units in the area. Leave the area immediately. Close the door, or section off the area to prevent others from entering (i.e., keep others away). Shut down the air handling system in the building, if possible. If possible, list all people who were in the room or area. Give this list to both the local public health authorities so that proper instructions can be given for medical follow-up, and to law enforcement officials for further investigation.
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What To Do For Yourself And Others Wash your hands with soap and warm water for one minute to prevent spreading any powder or other contaminant to your face. Ensure that all persons who have touched the suspicious item wash their hands with soap and water. If any substance has leaked or spilled, shower with soap and water as soon as possible. Do not use bleach or other disinfectant on your skin. Do not allow anyone who might have touched the item to leave the facility. Make a list all people who were in the room or area when this suspicious letter or package was recognized, especially if powder was spilled. List anyone who might have had actual contact with the suspicious package or any of its packaging or contents. Give this list to both the local public health authorities so that proper instructions can be given for medical follow-up, and to law enforcement officials for further investigation. Place all items worn when in contact with the suspected mail piece in plastic bags and keep them wherever you change your clothes and have them available for law enforcement agents. Who to Call If you are at work, immediately notify your supervisor or building security, who should immediately contact the Postal Inspection Service, local police, safety office, or other designated person. If you are at home, report the incident to local police, or call your local post office to report that you've received a suspicious letter or parcel that may contain biological or chemical substances. In either case, indicate whether the envelope contains any visible powder or if any powder or other substance leaked or spilled. What To Do Next Do not panic. Wait for emergency personnel to arrive. They will provide further instructions on what to do to protect yourself. Do not contact other officials. Designated officials will notify local, county, and state health departments and the state emergency manager. The Postal Inspectors will assess the threat situation and coordinate with the FBI. Follow medical advice carefully. Take all medications as instructed or until they run out, even if you feel fine and do not show any symptoms of illness.
References 1. 2. 3. 4.
“How To Handle Anthrax And Other Biological Agent Threats”. CDC Health Advisory, October 12, 2001 http://www.bt.cdc.gov/DocumentsApp/Anthrax/10122001Handle/10122001Handle.asp “What to Do if You Receive an Anthrax Threat.” United States Postal Service, October 16, 2001. http://www.usps.com/news/2001/press/pr01_1010tips.htm “Anthrax: Frequently Asked Questions.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/anthrax_g.htm “Protecting Investigators from Exposure to Bacillus anthracis Using Personal Protective Equipment” http://www.bt.cdc.gov/DocumentsApp/Anthrax/10222001Exposure/10222001Exposure.asp
For more information, contact your local Hartford agent or your Hartford Loss Control Consultant. Visit The Hartford’s Loss Control web site at http://www.thehartford.com/corporate/losscontrol/ This document is provided for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for individual legal counsel or advice on issues discussed within. Readers seeking resolution of specific legal issues or business concerns related to the captioned topic should consult their attorneys and/or insurance representatives.
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