One Accident Is Too Many

Celebrate the New Year with a pledge to stay safe and see another.

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The new year is upon us, and here’s hoping all of you make it through 2019 safely.

One of the stories in this issue of Municipal Sewer & Water focuses on the efforts the Houston Wastewater Operations team has made to recover, rebuild and improve its systems after Hurricane Harvey devastated the city in 2017.

Houston’s wastewater system is one of the nation’s largest, and the damage was significant: treatment plants underwater, significant portions of the collections system totally flooded for nearly a week, and lift stations completely submerged. Across the area, treatment plants and systems in as many as 11 counties were partially or completely submerged. It was the wettest tropical cyclone on record in the U.S. and equaled a one-in-1,000-year flood event.

Lives were changed. Luckily, people in the most affected areas had evacuated. The treatment and collections staffs, however, were dealing with the fallout from the storm on two fronts: home and work. Some weren’t able to go home so they stayed at the plants. The department’s 800 people rotated on 12-hour shifts, but the crews needed rest and fatigue was high.

Today, over a year after the storm, Houston continues to repair and recover its wastewater infrastructure, but it will take a long time. Systems are all up and running, but things aren’t ever going to be the same.

Hurricanes and natural disasters are beyond your control, but you can still prepare for the dangers you face day to day. It’s the perfect time of year to review and reinforce all your safety procedures and the importance of following them at all times.

This month’s Staying Safe column is a good refresher on some of the critical steps you need to take before starting any underground utility work. There are more than 300,000 incidents each year related to utilities being struck during repairs and installation of new services in the water and wastewater industry. That’s bad for your utility infrastructure, but the consequences of these incidents can at times be life-threatening to your crews.

And the safety risks your crews encounter on a daily basis go well beyond striking underground utilities. Do a quick Google search on “sewer worker accident.” You’ll see page after page of headlines like these:

“Chicago Sewer Worker’s Death Investigated by OSHA.”

“Kansas City Water Worker Dies in Sewer Line Accident.”

“Nitrogen Is Implicated in Middletown Sewer Worker’s Death.”

“Worker, 22, Dies After Being Trapped in 20-Inch Sewer Pipe.”

“Three Sanitation Workers and One Policeman Die in an Underground Sewage Pumping Station in Kentucky.”

I hate seeing those headlines pop up. In most cases it’s completely avoidable. Don’t ever let your crews forget about the very real dangers they face or become complacent when it comes to safety protocols. It’s easy to think it won’t happen to you, until it does.

Keep safety top of mind at all times, and make sure your workers make it home every night.

Stay safe. And enjoy this month’s issue.


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