How To Keep Sewer Workers Safe

How To Keep Sewer Workers Safe

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Whether you work in a wastewater treatment facility, on a sewer collections system maintenance inspection and rehabilitation crew, or in residential plumbing cleaning inspection and rehabilitation services, sewer work can pose risks to your health and safety. 

General best practices on top of regional or individual health and safety regulations can be an employee’s best line of defense. These suggestions are not intended to replace existing policies or procedures and are not all-inclusive. 

Waterborne disease is a major concern for wastewater workers. NIOSH currently has no official recommendations regarding vaccinations for workers who are in contact with sewage, however, many employers will offer voluntary vaccinations and all workers are encouraged to discuss with their doctors what vaccinations may be right for them. 

Four major types of human disease-causing organisms (pathogens) can be found in sewage: bacteria, viruses, protozoa and helminthes (parasitic worms). 

One of the best lines of defense against pathogens is personal protective equipment to keep contaminates from your body and to keep you free from cuts, scrapes, scratches and other damage to your body. Employers should supply workers with necessary PPE, and ensure workers are using the equipment properly. 

In addition to proper use, PPE should be handled and disposed of properly as to not cross contaminate clean areas. Training on standard hygiene practices for sewer workers conducted by qualified safety and health professionals to cover the risks and policies and procedures of the employer should be done periodically. 

The following tips can also be used to prevent illness to workers in hazardous environments:

  1. Use gloves to prevent skin abrasions and create a barrier between skin and surfaces exposed to wastewater and debris.
  2. Avoid touching face, mouth, eyes, nose, genitalia, or open sores and cuts while working with wastewater and debris.
  3. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact with wastewater and debris and wash your hands before you eat, drink, or smoke and before and after using the bathroom.
  4. Eat in designated areas away from wastewater and debris.
  5. Do not smoke or chew tobacco or gum while working with wastewater and debris.
  6. Remove excess wastewater and debris from footgear prior to entering a vehicle or a building.
  7. Keep wounds covered with clean, dry bandages.
  8. Thoroughly but gently flush eyes with water if wastewater and debris contact eyes.
  9. Change into clean work clothing on a daily basis and reserve footgear for use at work sites or during wastewater and debris transport. 

About the Author

Matt Timberlake is vice president of Ted Berry Company Inc., a municipal and industrial services and trenchless technologies company located in Livermore, Maine.

Contact him at matt@tedberrycompany.com or www.tedberrycompany.com.



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