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York Container - Cardboard Sleeves Contingency Use Arrangements - Christmas Pressure Period

Dave Joyce, CWU National Health, Safety & Environment Officer has just issued a letter to all postal branches regarding safety issues in the use of York Container Cardboard Sleeves.

LTB916/12 is reproduced in full below, and can also be downloaded for printing off using the link at the end of the article. The document containing the safe system of work proceadures can be found within the LTB itself after downloading:

Branches and Area Safety Representatives in particular will be well aware of the Union's position In relation to the use of York Container Cardboard Sleeves which were introduced by Royal Mail in agreement with the CWU/HQ Postal Department in the mid/late 1990's, specifically for use on the Amazon contract. Amazon packet/small parcel traffic has continued to grow with the popularity and indeed boom of internet sales and Amazon's expanding range of products on offer, becoming Royal Mail's second biggest customer, with the contract now worth about £25 million pounds a year.  

Over subsequent years Mail Centre Managers (MCMs) were made responsible for the budget and purchase of York Container Sleeves and as a result certain MCMs began to misuse Cardboard Sleeves in growing numbers on traffic outside of the Amazon Contract as packet traffic growth continued and Cardboard Sleeves were cheaper to purchase than Auto-Levelling Packet (ALP) Sleeves. These MCMs were primarily concerned with the loss of ALPs they had purchased being despatched into the Network which were not being repatriated but instead were being kept by other Mail Centres to use etc. The Union raised objections to the growing misuse and made strong representations on both efficiency and health and safety grounds.

The HSE were consulted and it was agreed that an Ergonomic Study would be undertaken. The main recommendation from the Ergonomic Study was that when being used for loose packet traffic, the weight of items should be limited and the base height of the sleeve should be raised to reduce musculoskeletal risks when used repetitively, bending and lifting to sort packets from the bottom of the sleeves. The HSE were content with the report's recommendations which stated that for loose packet traffic, false bases and supporting cross members should be fitted. The Union's position was made clear - that being a strong preference for ALP Sleeves as standard equipment with no extension of Cardboard Sleeves use outside of the Amazon Contract which Royal Mail at one stage extended to a QVC Contract.

With the design and strength of the Auto-Levelling Packet (ALP) Sleeve being improved in a Mk 2 version, Royal Mail agreed that Cardboard Sleeves should be withdrawn and  only be used for the Amazon contract and as an emergency, fall back contingency measure with central clearance needed before use. In the meantime more ALP Sleeves would be purchased by Mail Centres. In relation to the purchase process the Union expressed the strong view that ALP Sleeves should be procured centrally by Assets as with other equipment to avoid Mail Centre Managers from being reluctant to purchase ALPs in Mail Centres because they were losing large numbers into the Network and not getting them back.

Following discussions with Royal Mail the following actions were taken to stop misuse:-

(a) In 2005 Mike Eady then Head of CPC issued an Instruction to MCMs not to misuse Cardboard Sleeves.
(b) On 2 November 2006 Tony Fox Logistics Director issued an instruction to all senior managers and MCMs reaffirming the commitment to remove cardboard sleeves from the Mail Centre network.
(c) On 12 December 2008, Opsflash 169 was issued by Mike Broderick of Central Postal Control to all Managers instructing that Cardboard Sleeves/York Inserts are not to be used for Outward Despatches by Mail Centres without prior permission from CPC and this will only be given in exceptional circumstances.

In short this equipment has been and remains withdrawn from general use and for very good reasons.

The grounds for withdrawal of Cardboard Sleeves were set out by Central Postal Control (CPC) in the instructions sent to MCMs as follows:-
(a) The use of Cardboard Sleeves for packet traffic was having an adverse affect on the network,
(b) Safe Systems of Work were not being followed, 
(c) Increased York Container demands (Cardboard Sleeve only holds 65% of a full York with an ALP Sleeve),
(d) Reduced vehicle utilisation (less packets per York Container)
(e) Large amounts of unwanted, waste cardboard requiring repatriation. (or recycling - Also environmental issue).

When more recently the York Container Safe System of Work was jointly reviewed it was agreed to amend the SSoW ( version 2.6) to state "Cardboard Sleeves - Only to used for Approved Contracts (not permitted for any other mail stream)."  

Last Year Royal Mail Assets centrally purchased ALP Sleeves in large numbers which was welcomed by the Union and Royal Mail.  80,000 additional York Containers and 97,000 additional ALP Sleeve were put  into the network prior to Xmas 2011. This year a further 67,000 York’s and 25,000 Alp Sleeves have been purchased and will be delivered into the operation by this month. 5,000 Alp Sleeves have been distributed to the following Mail Centres; Manchester, Leeds, South Midlands & Birmingham. 20,000 Alps have been distributed to the remaining Mail Centres and RDC’s.

However, as Royal Mail have moved further into the busiest period at Christmas, and packet volumes begin to peak, the need to move packets through the network quickly becomes critical and demand for ALP Sleeves increases. Despite the fact that Royal Mail have put 147,000 additional York Containers and 122,000 additional ALP Sleeve in to the network over the last two years, additional to the existing 200,000 Yorks in circulation with over half of those containing an ALP Sleeve, Royal Mail have informed us that they are beginning to see problems with sites struggling to get sufficient numbers of ALP Sleeves to meet their operational requirements. A 56% growth in packets is forecast over 2011. The Central Asset Team continues to push the Regions to ensure that they clear their Delivery Offices every day and arrange repatriation of Yorks/ Alps from gaining sites. However, they are still struggling to meet the demand at key locations. Royal Mail have assured CWU/HQ that they are doing everything they can to ensure  that Regions repatriate as many York Containers and ALP Sleeves as possible out of Delivery Offices but unfortunately the business is now seeing the continued increase in packet volumes and traffic. As a result Regions are struggling to get sufficient ALP Sleeves back into their Packet Centre Outhouse operations and loosing Mail Centres to meet demand.

As a critical, emergency situation has been reached in many Offices, Royal Mail have proposed that as a Christmas contingency only, the use of Cardboard Sleeves/York Inserts will be permitted as a last resort as follows:-
(a) For Inward despatches or transfers from Mail Centres to Delivery offices.
(b) For Outward despatches by Mail Centres and Packet outhouses.
(c) For 2nd class packet despatches from Mail Centres to PSC.
(c) Before this contingency is implemented however the site must ensure that all efforts have been made to get ALPs back from their DO’s and that permission has sought and been given by the Regional Asset teams.

IMPORTANT:- If Cardboard Sleeves/York Inserts are used as a contingency, the site must ensure that:-
(a) the CWU Area Safety Representative and Area Processing Representative are consulted should this contingency need to be implemented.
(b) that the SSoW is followed and
(c) that the mandatory cross-members and false bases must be fitted and used correctly in Cardboard Sleeved York Containers. Any offices found not to be compliant with this instruction will be asked to investigate reasons why this has happened and furnish a report on remedial action taken with the report shared with the CWU Area Safety Representative. Such breaches of the SSoW by Management will be viewed as serious! 

Once the Christmas pressure period is finished, the contingency use of Cardboard Sleeve inserts will be withdrawn and Offices will revert back to Business as usual with Cardboard Sleeves used on the agreed Amazon Contract only and the packet operation must revert back to using ALP Sleeves for Inward transfers to DOs and Outward despatches to Mail Centres and Regional Distribution Centres.   

Cardboard Sleeves SSoW summary from York Container SSoW:-

  • DO NOT use sleeves for packets weighing more than 10kg
  • Use the false base and cross support at all times.
  • When sorting from a sleeve, open the lower part of the sleeve to improve access to packets at the bottom.
  • When sorting from a sleeve, position the York to minimise twisting – use your feet to turn and not your body.
  • DO NOT tip bags into cardboard sleeves
  • Before moving the York, close the sleeve to retain the contents.

Following consultation with Terry Pullinger Assistant Secretary in the Postal Department, CWU/HQ is prepared to support the current instructions of Cardboard Sleeves being used as a last resort if all else fails, during the Christmas Pressure period only as set out above subject to consultation with the appropriate CWU ASR and APR with the SSoW followed plus the mandatory cross-members and false bases used at all times. Also Royal Mail National Assets Team and Regional Assets Teams will continue to push the Regions to ensure ALP Sleeves are recovered from the DOs on a daily basis.

Royal Mail have stated that we have seen a considerable growth in packet volumes and this continues to grow year on year. Despite the fact that Royal Mail have purchased more ALP Sleeves this year than they have in the last 8 years, demand is outstripping current resources as we move further into the Christmas period and the only alternative available as a fall back at this present time is cardboard sleeves, whilst accepting that it isn’t the best solution. However Royal Mail state that it is the only contingency it has  which is easily available and will not cause too many operational problems which both Royal Mail and the Union wouldn’t want. Royal Mail have reiterated the assurance that this will only be over the Christmas pressure period to ensure Christmas runs smoothly.

Finally, Royal Mail in consultation with the Union is working with manufacturers on an alternative, new 'Packet Ready' York Container which doesn't require a Sleeve and can easily be converted to and from Packet traffic use and prototypes are currently being examined and discussed with the next stage being the production of a prototype trial batch to be tested in a closed loop operation, hopefully in 2013.

ASRs should ensure they carry out periodic Safety Inspections and spot checks at Offices, especially the Temporary Dedicated Packet Network Outhouses where high numbers of Temporary Christmas staff are employed to ensure SSoWs are followed.

The contents of this LTB have been agreed with Mark Fletcher Royal Mail National Container Manager.

Download the original LTB916/12 here

Source: CWU

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