Back to Basics: Manhole Safety Review

Don’t let experience make you complacent when it comes to safety during confined-space entry

Back to Basics: Manhole Safety Review

A crew should always set up a work site using all the necessary safety precautions before entering a manhole for a rehabilitation job

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

You’re professionals. You work in and around manholes regularly. You know what you’re doing and you’ve always come home safe at the end of the day. But that’s exactly the mentality that can get you in trouble.

If you want to stay safe, review safety protocols and procedures often. Make them a standard part of your day, and keep the following safety basics in mind at all times.

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 always be a competent person appointed to be outside of the manhole while the work is being completed in case someone inside needs assistance.

Use appropriate PPE

Individual health and safety regulations should always be reviewed by those coming into contact with sewage. You’re potentially exposed to a number of different airborne and waterborne illnesses anytime you’re working around wastewater. Using 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 you can talk directly with your physician about what makes the most sense for you.

Types of disease affecting sewer workers

There are four primary types of disease-causing organisms found in sewage that can affect humans — bacteria, protozoa, viruses and parasitic worms. PPE can help ensure that these contaminants are kept off 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. Avoid touching your nose, eyes, mouth, face or any open cuts or sores while working.

Don’t ever eat in an area near sewage. Designated areas should be established away from the job site. Excess wastewater and debris should always be removed from boots prior to coming back inside.

First-aid kit

Make sure there is a complete first-aid kit in your truck or on site at all times. It should contain appropriate bandages, gauze, antibiotic ointment and other supplies, including an eye-flush kit in case 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, 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 be carefully evaluated by the safety inspector before each job, and they should always be on hand.

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.


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