I am going down. The ground beneath me is giving out, my feet are slipping, and I’m carrying a box marked fragile. My trainer shouts: “Eyes forward—get your footing back!” But it’s too late.
The slick floor is meant to simulate an icy sidewalk, one of the many stations here that new UPS drivers must master during a week of training at the company’s new boot camp in Landover.
In front of the training facility is a flagpole, stars and stripes on top; below is a smaller flag of that familiar deep brown. Tom Conard, the facility’s manager, greets me at the door: “Welcome to Integrad.”
The wide-open space in front of us resembles a car showroom with its bright lights and white walls. There are posters with such titles as "Eight Keys to Lifting and Lowering." In the middle of the floor are UPS trucks with clear siding. Would-be drivers sort the packages inside while a trainer stands by with a stopwatch. Other driver candidates pull hand carts up fake curbs and knock on fake doors. “Hello—UPS!” they shout. They drop off fake packages, walk away, then do it again.
I hear a rubbery screech and the clang of metal. I look around the corner of a truck and see a man in a full-body harness walking cautiously. His heel gives out, and he tumbles backward before being caught by the harness. I watch him dangle in the air.
“That’s the slips-and-falls track,” says Conard. “A fan favorite. Don’t worry—you’ll get your shot a little later.”
But first, he says, is something a little easier. They call it the “on/off car.” It’s a truck with sensors on the handrails, the step, and the floor that calculate the weight you’re putting on your legs when disembarking.
Perhaps even more dangerous than an icy sidewalk is the repetitive stressing of a driver’s joints. This station shows the candidates how much extra weight they take on when not abiding by the “three points of contact” rule.
Conard demonstrates. Point number one: hand on the handrail. Number two: left foot on the bottom step. Number three: right foot on the ground. Distribute your weight across these three points. “In other words,” says Conard, “don’t just hop off.”
I give it a try. Without the three points of contact, my 150-pound body hits the ground with 237 pounds of force. I try again, gripping the handrail, one foot on the step and the other carefully reaching the ground. This time: 140 pounds.
Beside the force-floor station is a large poster with a series of calculations: Without three points of contact, a 170-pound driver will exert 136 extra pounds with each stop. At 105 stops a day, that’s 14,280 extra pounds a day. Next to the 14,280 number is a picture of three Ford F-150 trucks.
The chart multiplies this number by times per week, per month, per year, up through a 20-year career: 74,256,000 extra pounds. Below this is a picture of a cruise ship.
The poster is my first brush with the “numbers culture” at UPS, an obsession with measurements, timetables, stopwatches. The company prides itself on its adherence to a set of guidelines: arithmetically timed routes, methodical memorization. Unapologetic micromanagement.
This culture is outlined in the company’s “340 Methods,” which date to the 1920s and tell drivers the most efficient way to do just about anything. (There now are more than 340.) Such as buckling your seat belt with your left hand while starting the ignition with your right. And beeping your horn every three seconds when backing up for safety.
Integrad was created to preserve the 340 Methods the company has relied on for decades. For a while, they were in danger.