Safety Tips for Working In and Around Manholes

Safety Tips for Working In and Around Manholes

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The importance of practicing safety when working on sewer projects in and around manholes can never be emphasized enough.

Keep this information in mind.

Warning Signs

Appropriate warning signs and fencing should always be used around the manhole. This is primarily to notify passersby of the inherent risks of sewer work. Curious people may still attempt to peek at the side of the fence or to get closer to see what's happening. This is why warning signs are important but alone are sometimes not enough to reduce the risk of injuries or problems.

There should also be a worker appointed to be outside of the manhole while the work is being completed in case someone inside needs assistance as well as to warn passersby.

Use Appropriate PPE to Avoid Exposure to Dangerous Contaminants and Consider Other Measures

Individual health and safety regulations should always be reviewed by those coming into contact with sewage. Workers can be exposed to a number of different airborne and waterborne illnesses and other problems. Being sure to use the right equipment and following general best practices is the most appropriate protection.

In addition, although there are currently no official suggestions regarding vaccinations for those who are in regular contact with sewage, many employers do provide voluntary vaccinations and an employee can talk directly with their physician about what makes the most sense for them.

Types of Disease Affecting Sewer Workers

There are four primary types of disease-causing organisms that can affect humans and are found in sewage — bacteria, protozoa, viruses and parasitic worms. PPE can help ensure that these contaminants are kept off of the human body and keep the worker free from scrapes, cuts, scratches and other bodily harm. Employers should be mindful about supplying the proper PPE, as well as enforcing the use of it.

Be careful not to cross-contaminate any clean areas when handling and disposing of sewer material. Standard hygiene practices should be given to all sewer workers by a qualified health and safety professional to cover the policies, procedures and risks. These should be managed on a periodic basis.

Gloves are some of the most common safety equipment that can be used to form a barrier between the skin and surfaces. Employees should also be warned about touching their nose, eyes, mouth, face or any open cuts or sores while working.

Employees should be told about the dangers of eating in an area near sewage. Designated areas should be established away from the job site. Excess wastewater and debris should always be removed from the foot gear of a sewer worker prior to coming back inside.

First-Aid Kit

A first-aid kit should always be maintained by the employer with appropriate bandages and the ability to gently flush out eyes if any debris or wastewater comes into contact with a worker’s eyes.

Other Protective Equipment

One important piece of safety gear is a ventilation blower that can help to supply fresh air to the manhole to ensure that the air inside stays safe for workers. Any generators that could be releasing toxic fumes near the area should be removed from the work site as soon as possible. In addition to these considerations, general safety equipment should be properly maintained and inspected by the employer and a sufficient number of people should always be located outside the manhole to be able to respond quickly in the event of an accident.

Some of the most common equipment used to respond to emergency situations and to promote overall safety are safety harnesses, rescue ropes, an approved breathing apparatus, protective clothing and safety helmets. These pieces should always be evaluated carefully by the safety inspector before each job.   

When the proper training meets the right safety equipment, those managing and working in a sewer area have a decreased risk of dealing with accidents, injuries, and personal injury lawsuits. Every time that sewer work is being completed, the same safety checks should be completed to ensure minimal chance of severe accidents and harm done to those in and around the area. 

About the Authors

Salter Ferguson LLC of Birmingham, Alabama, is a mother/daughter team of personal injury attorneys that contributes safety stories to Municipal Sewer & Water magazine. For more information, visit


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