Important Safety Tips for Wastewater Treatment Plants

Jeff Maree, Eaton Filtration Online

Being a plant manager at a wastewater treatment center is an enormous responsibility. You answer to many higher authorities besides your direct boss. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) might even know you by name.

Plant managers not only are responsible for preventing health hazards to the public, but they must also protect their employees. This is a daunting task in any industry, but for wastewater managers, they get to do it surrounded by sewage.

Following are some simple tips to keep your safety plan up to date and effective in these demanding conditions.

Standard Safety Requirements

Proper maintenance of machinery and equipment is a necessity. If your equipment fails, not only is it unsafe, but your facility is down for the count. Instead of thinking of your maintenance staff as repairmen, think of them as repair preventers. The best maintenance is done before something goes wrong. This lessens the safety hazards that arise when equipment malfunctions or breaks down.

Proper maintenance requires organization and planning. All pipes and electrical systems must be labeled appropriately. This includes identifying intake and outlet pipes and any equipment that presents an electrical flash hazard. If workers must perform repairs near live equipment, make sure they have the appropriate tools and protective gear and know how to use them.

Employees are often required to work on catwalks high above open pits. Ensure all railings are adequate to prevent falls. If workers must perform their duties in unguarded areas, fall protection is required for any work 6 feet above the ground or a lower level.

Employees should also follow any confined-space entry requirements set by OSHA. Confined spaces are areas that an employee can enter, have restricted exit and entry, and are not designed for continuous work. Warnings must be prominently placed in any hazard zones. Barricades should be set to prevent unauthorized entry.

Unique Hazards of a Wastewater Treatment Plant

The vats at your plant do not look or smell like a swimming pool. You do not want anyone, including yourself, to end up falling in. Unfortunately, this is always a possibility. The first step you need to take for safety is to use non-slip surfaces around all vats and on all catwalks. Add additional traction tape, if necessary. All employees should also use slip-resistant footwear.

Have rescue devices readily available in the event someone does fall into a vat. Rescue hooks and floatation devices similar to those found at a public pool should be within easy reach.

All employees in your plant must understand the additional personal hygiene requirements. Frequent hand washing with an anti-bacterial soap is a good place to start. Any open cuts or skin abrasions should be covered with proper first-aid materials. Providing a location for employees to change after their shift is highly recommended. Work clothes should not be worn home.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) also has guidelines that you must follow. NFPA 820 specifically addresses hazards that wastewater treatment plants face. Make certain that you are familiar with these requirements for explosion and fire safety.

Dealing with Tour Groups

Your wastewater plant is not the great American amusement park, but for some reason, everybody wants a tour. This often includes visitors from agencies that are not the least bit familiar with safety or a group of fourth graders on a science field trip.

You must assign one or more competent employees to guide visitors through your plant. This should include assigning a responsible party to stand by when outside contractors are performing maintenance or repairs. Keep all visitors well away from open pits and hazard areas.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health do not require mandatory vaccines for workers, your employees should consult with their own physicians for recommendations. You can obtain a great deal of additional health and safety information from the CDC to assist your workers in maintaining a healthy working environment.

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About the Author

Jeff Maree is a product specialist at Commercial Industrial Supply, a leading supplier of Eaton filtrati...