Last month, two Texas wastewater treatment plant employees fell unconscious while repairing a pipe valve that had been leaking sludge the basement. While the two were semi-conscious during the rescue, one of the workers died one week later in the hospital.
While local officials say unknown gases likely caused this fatal workplace accident, they aren’t sure why the two would remove their air tanks and breathing mask while performing repairs.
Wastewater Treatment Plants Must Protect Workers from Workplace Accidents
Wastewater treatment plant workers are exposed to chlorine, hydrogen sulfide gas and sewage sludge that could potentially cause diseases, chemical burns and asphyxiation. That said, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires wastewater plant employers to protect workers by providing the following:
- Accessible clean water on site so employees can wash their hands
- A clean place to decontaminate after work
- Clean break areas for eating
- Facilities for cleaning clothing and protective equipment
- Protective Personal Equipment (PPE)
PPE must include goggles, a face shield, gloves, helmets, a water-resistant suit and respiratory equipment. It is the employer’s responsibility to keep this equipment sterile and provide regular maintenance to ensure the equipment does not malfunction while in use. The PPE must also be able to withstand impact, penetration, chemicals, harmful dust, optical radiation, compression and heat.
Additionally (and arguably most importantly), OSHA requires employers to provide proper training and education on the hazards of working with sewage and wastewater. This training must include safe work practices, the ability to recognize safety risks, what to do if exposed to hazardous material and how to properly operate all safety equipment. Understanding exposure levels and familiarizing workers with chemical types, their physical states and their effects is extremely important.
The Law Offices of Aaron is a personal injury law firm that fights for Texans who have sustained injuries in a workplace accident.