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OSHA Requirements for Pumpers


It’s never a bad time for a refresh on the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (better known as OSHA). The act, passed in 1970, comprises a set of federal standards for workplace safety, but it also allows individual states to submit and operate their own safety plans and requirements. State plans may cover all workers in a state, or may only cover state and local government workers only. It is important to know which category your state falls under.

OSHA state plans covering private and state/local government workplaces:
Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawai’i, Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming

OSHA state plans covering only state/local government workplaces:
Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Virgin Islands

No state plan, follows federal OSHA plans:  
Alabama, American Samoa, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Wisconsin

State plans often don’t differ drastically from the federal OSHA plan, but the states of California, Michigan, Oregon, and Washington do have plans with substantial differences from the federal one.

Find your state OSHA office here >>

If you are in need of assistance in identifying and/or fixing workplace safety issues, most states do have consultation services available for free as part of the On-Site Consultation Program. Other OSHA programs workplaces can participate in include the Alliance Program, the OSHA Strategic Partnership Program, the Voluntary Protection Programs, and the OSHA Challenge Program.

Read more about the OSHA cooperative programs here >>

Keep in mind that the supervisor or crew leader of an onsite/decentralized wastewater work crew will typically be the OSHA competent person (unless there is a different employee specifically assigned to oversee safety). Whoever is in charge of safety, they must be able to identify critical issues, know and follow OSHA requirements, enforce a written safety plan, and create a culture of safety for the workforce.

The top reasons for accidents include rushing, poor concentration, and simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A comprehensive safety plan can help address some of these causes and minimize damages after accidents do occur.

For more:


Safety Tips for Water Operators

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According to the National Safety Council, accident rates continue to be high for the water industry, even when compared with other high-risk fields such as construction and mining. It's important for water operators to be informed on accident prevention practices and safety procedures to protect themselves from the hazards associated with this essential role.

We have 400 resources (and counting) on Safety in our Documents Database that provide valuable information on this topic. You can search for documents about pathogen exposures for workers in the onsite industry, health hazards in wastewater treatment plants, confined space safety guidelines, lockout/ tagout practices and procedures, and many other useful guides that will help you to deliver safe and clean water to utility customers. 

To access the wealth of knowledge on Safety within our database just select "CATEGORY" in the dropdown then choose "Safety." Once you make that selection, a second dropdown will appear where you can choose "HOST," “TYPE,” or “STATE” to narrow the search even further. If you have a specific search term in mind, use the “Keyword Filter” search bar on the right side of the screen.

This is part of our A-Z for Operators series.

Health and Safety for Onsite Workers | Onsite Overview #2

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Onsite professionals are exposed to many dangers on the job, and it is important to be aware of all the appropriate health and safety precautions that will keep workers (as well as the general public) safe. Outside of the day-to-day risks that decentralized wastewater workers must face, there is also the concern of public and environmental health when septic systems are not maintained and repaired correctly. We have compiled a list of resources to get you started if you are interested in learning more about decentralized wastewater systems and how they can affect health and safety.

Our best resources on this topic:
“More Than Just Dirty” Pathogen Exposures to Workers in the On-Site Industry | Washington Onsite Sewage Association
This 107-slide presentation provides research results on a study conducted to examine pathogen exposures to workers in the on-site industry, discuss the various types of pathogen exposures and health impacts, what kind of personal protective equipment (PPE) is available to on-site workers, and basic hygiene practices to reduce risks from handling human waste.

Septic Tank Lid Safety | Washington State Department of Health
This 1-page fact sheet has a list of 7 precautions to make sure no one accidently falls into your septic tank. This includes knowing where your septic system lids or covers are located, use bolts, screws, or other locks to secure the lids and prevent easy access, teach children that the septic tank lids are not to be played on or opened.

What is a Cesspool? | Wastewater Alternatives & Innovations
This 3-minute video describes what cesspools are, and why they need to be converted. Basically, a cesspool is a hole in the ground receiving untreated wastewater. Cesspools pollute the environment and endanger public health. The focus is on Hawaii since they have the greatest number of cesspools per capita for a total of 83,000 in the state that are planned to be converted by 2050.

Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Can Protect the Environment, Public Health, and Water Quality | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This 2-page fact sheet describes how a decentralized wastewater treatment system can provide reliable wastewater treatment, reduce conventional pollutants, nutrients, and emerging contaminants, and mitigate contamination and health risks associated with wastewater. A case study on where this worked is also provided.

The Need to Mandate Openings at Surface on Septic Tanks | National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association
This 20-page presentation points out the common problem with access to septic tanks. Septic tanks are often installed without clear indications as to their locations and/or depths, creating several issues that should be addressed in order to properly maintain our waste management systems. Potential risks include the contamination of groundwater as potential injury to workers, homeowners, and the general public. The proposed solution is to install risers with covers to the surface as a reasonable way to assure proper maintenance.

How to find more resources on this topic on our website?
If you are interested in looking through our database for the other resources on this topic follow the instructions below:

  1. Select "CATEGORY" in the dropdown then choose "Decentralized WW Systems." 
  2. Once you make that selection, a second dropdown will appear where you can choose "TYPE" if you are looking for a specific kind of resource (videos, factsheets, etc.)
  3. Optional: In the Keyword Filter, you can type a specific word or phrase to target the search even further.
  4. The last step is to click the "Retrieve Documents" button to see your results.  

Water Operator Vaccination Update

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By Margaret Golden

When the public thinks about “essential employees” they typically picture healthcare workers, first responders, or even grocery store workers. The water operators that work to keep our water safe and protect public health are also essential, currently classified in CDC’s phase 1C category for vaccine prioritization

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recently hosted a webinar discussing COVID-19 vaccinations for essential workers, specially those who work in the water sector. Since the vaccine is new and currently in limited supply, the CDC created a list of “essential workers” with various levels of priority in order to ensure that those who are most vulnerable would be able to get the vaccination first. These recommended categories, including water sector professionals as phase 1C,  were developed by the CDC with help from the ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices). These guidelines were set up by the CDC to serve as recommendations, as the ultimate timeline decision lies within your local jurisdiction.

Each state has created its own specialized action plan depending on its need for sub-prioritization. For example, areas where large outbreaks have occurred are being prioritized as well as workers with a history of illness. There are also potential exceptions to the timeline. For example, if you are someone that works in a state, county, or local jurisdiction that is different from the one where you live you might be able to get vaccinated where you work. If you are unsure about where you stand in the timeline, you should contact your local public health department.

With COVID-19 vaccines developed in record time, there is understandably some hesitation surrounding it. However, after being tested on a wide range of adults from diverse backgrounds and after being approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), the CDC has determined the vaccine to be safe and effective. Two vaccines are currently available in the United States, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both use mRNA technology, meaning that the mRNA instructs the body to produce a harmless piece of the spike protein so that your body can create the antibodies to fight against them. This means that the vaccine cannot give you the virus because there is no live virus in the ingredients. You should also still get the vaccine even if you have had COVID-19 because it can still help prevent you from getting it a second time.  

As we approach the one year anniversary of the first lockdown in the United States, we are lucky to have a vaccine available to protect the workers who ensure our water is safe to drink. When it’s your turn, encourages all water sector professionals to be vaccinated to help stop the spread of this deadly virus. If you have concerns, we recommend contacting and following the advice of your local health department or personal physician.

Lastly, it is important to remember that getting vaccinated is just one of many efforts to be made; we all also need to continue to wear masks, wash hands, stay six feet apart, and avoid crowds, whether you have been vaccinated or not. 

Developing & Implementing a Cost Effective Water Utility Safety Program

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Even with advances in smart water technology, any supervisor knows that a utility can't run without its dedicated staff. While workers take care of equipment operations, maintenance, billing, or customer service, it's the responsibility of the person in charge to ensure these duties are being carried out in a safe environment using appropriate precautions.

Water and wastewater utilities have a history of experiencing occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities (IIF) at a higher rate than most other occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Incidence Rates - Detailed Industry Level table from each year’s Industry Injury and Illness Data Summary Tables has generally supported this trend. Their reports show the average non-fatal incident rate for the water and sewage industry has historically been higher than the industry average as a whole.


The data from this table was taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Incidence Rates- Detailed Industry Level for 2008 and 2017. (Click table to enlarge.)

The table above shows the rate of non-fatal injuries reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2008 and 2017. While any year can have variability, in 2008 the non-fatal injury incident rate was much higher than the industry average. In 2017 you can see that the average number of injuries has decreased since 2008 and is now closer to the industry average. These values don’t include the number of fatal injuries experienced by the water and wastewater industry, but as an overall trend, non-fatal injury reports to the Bureau of Labor Statistics support that the water industry has improved since the early and late 2000’s.

Types of Injuries
As utilities continue to prioritize and promote a safe work culture, we hope to reduce the frequency of incidents even further. There are many hazards that pose a risk to operator safety. The most frequent non-fatal water and wastewater injuries reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017 were due to over exertion during lifting, being struck by a tool or object, and falls, slips, and trips. Water and wastewater utilities also have to manage the risks posed by confined spaces, electrical equipment, trenching, road safety, ladders, hazardous chemicals, blood borne pathogens, and more.

Safety Costs
According to Bureau Veritas’ presentation at the 2008 CSWEA Maintenance and Safety Seminar, the financial costs for water and wastewater injuries can be quite expensive. Budgeting for a good safety program will protect your employees and incur less expenses than the direct and indirect costs that result from a poor safety program.

Developing and Implementing a Safety Program
Since every system faces different hazards, your safety plan should be specific to your system hazards. To get started, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends seven core elements for your system’s safety program: management leadership, worker participation, hazard identification and assessment, hazard prevention and control, education and training, program evaluation and improvement, and communication and coordination for host employers, contractors, and staffing agencies. OSHA’s Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs website provides an explanation of these elements in addition to a list of helpful tools, case studies, additional resources, and a download for the recommended practices guide.

We also encourage you to check out the Water Research Foundation’s Water Utility Safety and Health report to review safety program best practices and cost evaluations for various proactive and reactive programs. Once you’ve done your research, West Virginia Rural Association has developed an Injury and Illness Prevention Program template that systems can expand from.

Water System Specific Hazards
As you continue to promote safety in the work place remember that complacency is the adversary to injury and accident prevention. More specific  guidelines for electrical safety, traffic control, hazardous material communication, competent persons, confined space, chemical handling, chlorine exposure, fires, and waterborne disease can be found in Chapter 8 of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Intro to Small Water Systems Correspondence Course. The OSHAcademy also offers a variety of water and wastewater specific safety training. If you have a different safety question, more resources are available at’s document library or under our blog post category Operator Safety.

Methane Safety at Wastewater Plants

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Last week, a large explosion at a water reclamation facility in Calumet, IL served as a somber reminder of the importance of following safe practices when dealing with methane gas or any flammable material at treatment plants. While no one was killed, there were injuries and some of these were severe.

With this in mind, there is no better time than now to review safety procedures and training practices for working around potentially explosive materials like methane.

An important first safety step, according to this Spring 2018 article in Missouri WEA's Current Magazine, is to check your facility for gas leaks and accumulations. When doing this, it is better to use a combustible gas meter than to rely on your sense of smell, because an individual's nose can become desensitized to the tell-tale rotten-egg smell over time. In addition, it is essential that workers know how to use monitors properly, and test them regularly.

Other recommendations include the installation of an automatic fan/ventilation system and a permanent gas detection system.

Finally, as this safety presentation from Suez points out, never perform hot work unless explosion risks have been identified and eliminated. If you need a visual reminder about why this is so important, this video from the US Chemical Society & Hazard Investigation Board (USCSB) lays out the events leading up to a fatal Florida wastewater plant explosion in 2006.

Gas and chemical hazards are an invisible but unavoidable fact in the operations of a wastewater treatment plant. Get a step ahead of the game by reviewing these tips and following the correct protocol - it's the best way to ensure that you return home safely each workday.

Focus on Chlorine Safety

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Chlorine is one of the most widely used industrial chemicals in the world today, with 13 million tons produced annually in the United States alone. And although there are alternative treatment methods, the majority of water systems still use some form of chlorine for disinfection because it offers an affordable and well understood means of eliminating waterborne diseases. In fact, filtration of drinking water plus the use of chlorine has been called one of the most significant public health advancements of the 20th century.

Yet every treatment technology has its risks, and it is critical to understand the dangers. That is why your employee safety training programs are so important. Here are some supplemental chlorine safety resources from our document library to help support an active chlorine safety/emergency response program at your plant. 

In addition, chlorine safety topics are covered on operator certification exams and are a critical component of operator trainings. You can use the keyword box to search our national training calendar for upcoming opportunities. 

Responding to Cold Weather Main Breaks

Recent extreme cold weather has affected a large numbers of private and public water lines across the country, resulting in low pressure, main breaks and water service disruptions, including this one at New York's JFK airport.  During the cold snap over the 2018 New Year's holiday, the St. Louis region alone had to deal with 60 breaks per day, with more than 40 crews out at a time. 

Responding to these events, both the dramatic and the more "invisible" ones, can be particularly challenging and can put utility staff at risk. Here are some resources that can help when frigid weather causes trouble: 

  • USEPA's Extreme Cold and Winter Storms Incident Action Checklist
  • Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation's Intro to Small System Systems chapter five section on methods for thawing out frozen water lines (p. 181).
  • Of course, prevention is the best cure, so here is Indiana AWWA's updated winterizing checklist for ideas on how to prepare for freezing temperatures, snow, ice and sleet at your utility and around town the next time around. For even more readiness tips, take a look at this article on how to make water infrastructure winter-ready. 

Need a good public education tool to explain the water main break repair process to the general public? Check out this video from the city of Midland, Michigan showing how water distribution crews handle main breaks during the cold winter months. And here is another example from the city of Arlington, VA.

Featured Video: Lockout/Tagout

Why do things never seem to break when the weather's nice out? Somehow, whether it's the roof over your house, the battery in your car, or the machinery at your utility, things always seem to have a way of breaking down right when it's pouring rain, or there's a raging blizzard, or the temperature's over 100. Probably it's just that those are the breakdowns we find more memorable, while the quick fixes on sunny spring mornings fade into the background. Whatever the reason, the important thing to remember is to be safe, no matter what life is throwing at you while you're out getting your hands dirty. One important maintenance safety practice is known as lockout/tagout, or what OSHA now calls the Control of Hazardous Energy. This practice helps ensure that moving parts don't move when you're working on them (unless you want them to), and that no electricity is flowing through equipment that can shock you while you're repairing it. This week's video introduces the concept a little further, and explains how vital it is to worker safety. You can view it on YouTube here.

For more on lockout/tagout, see the OSHA page on hazardous energy. For more on lockout/tagout at water utilities, search our document database using the category "Safety" and the word "lockout" (without the quote marks) typed in the keyword search box.