Wastewater treatment workers treat sewer and storm water to remove impurities and then release the water to rivers, oceans, or recycled irrigation and landscaping networks. Operators in wastewater plants use mechanical equipment, treatment tanks, and chemicals to clean the water. This variety of processes can pose a mixture of hazards to workers.
Because there is so much water involved in the treatment process, slips, trips, and falls are the main hazard for wastewater treatment workers. Practice good housekeeping by sweeping up or squeegeeing water puddles. Mark areas that are prone to puddling. Fix leaks promptly. Use flooring surfaces that provide traction. Wear shoes that have a non-slip sole.
Confined spaces are a serious concern at water treatment facilities. Exposures to a low oxygen environment or high levels of hydrogen sulfide, methane gas, or ammonia can cause serious illness or death. Survey the areas for explosion potential from flammable gas and water engulfment in times such as heavy rain and flooding. Survey the entire facility for areas with limited egress and other hazard potential. Use proper confined space procedures, personal protective equipment (PPE), and ambient air and personal monitoring to ensure your safety.
Engulfment and/or drowning in treatment tanks are hazards at treatment plants. Put guardrails around all open water sources. Keep rescue equipment such as floats and hooks available near all tanks. If you will be doing work at height over an unguarded tank, consider fall protection gear and keep a coworker nearby to monitor you. When you lift grates over waterways and tanks for access, cordon off the area and place hazard warning signs to prevent accidental falls.
Water treatment plants have pumps and valves for moving water and many moving parts such as screens, belt presses, and conveyors remove debris and move sludge. This equipment can cause caught/crush hazards if you place a hand, arm, or foot too near a moving part. Guard all moving machinery and watch for these hazards while you work. Operating this equipment in a wet environment requires maintenance and repair work, so use good work practices. Electrical safety is key when working in a wet environment, so work carefully. Also follow lockout/tagout procedures to guard against accidental equipment startup while you are working on it.
Chemicals and biological hazards are very common in water treatment. Use safety data sheets (SDS) to understand the properties, exposure limits, PPE, and emergency actions for your treatment chemicals. Good housekeeping controls odor and pests. Practice good hygiene by wearing gloves and washing your hands frequently. Decontaminate your clothing or change before you go home from work. Speak to your doctor and consider vaccination for some of the hazards that you may encounter.
Wastewater treatment can be a challenging work environment. Plants often operate continuously, so shift work and emergency work are common. Long work shifts wearing PPE can be tiring. To deal with the workload and job demands, get the rest you need and maintain your overall health. Outdoor work can expose you to cold, heat, and the sun, so dress in comfortable layers and use sunscreen.