Chicago's Sewage Workers clean and repair sewer lines and drains to ensure the system remains fully functional. A portion of the division involves replacing damaged underground piping and drain tiles. Others operate the wastewater treatment plant, jet sewers, and lift stations to move sewage from residential to commercial properties to the treatment center. The operator is required to manipulate various plant equipment and machinery and guide lower-level operators on processes that break down contaminated wastewater during the cleaning process.
A typical day in the life of the sewage worker might require operating machinery to treat contaminated sewage, maintaining and cleaning filters and tanks, add water treating chemicals and microbes and monitor the levels of water and gas during the process. Throughout the day, operators must take readings and maintain accurate records to determine the efficiency of the process to ensure the water is clean enough for reuse. A partial list of duties involving sewerage treatment workers include:
- Operate, maintain and repair equipment, machinery, and structures in the plant.
- Clean water facility equipment, pumping stations, disposal equipment and sludge treatment machinery.
- Maintain, operate and repair equipment including diversion chambers, regulators, pumps, tide gates, chlorination equipment, boilers, meters, pipes, valves, and heat exchangers.
- Calibrate, troubleshoot and repair meters and equipment in the treatment system
- Collect facility and field samples
- Perform periodic tests and inspections as required
- Monitor the leaking warning systems.
- Maintain operating logs and prepare requisitions and reports
- Operate welding equipment
- Use heavy power tools
- Perform duties alongside others working in confined spaces
Contaminated wastewater that enters the treatment Center is processed through a variety of steps to eliminate contaminants and pollutants. The worker must monitor the gauges and meters to ensure the plan is operating efficiently. At times, the worker might need to remain on duty during emergencies to protect the health of the public.
If you or a family member was injured while working as a sewage worker, you are likely entitled to workers compensation benefits. Contact the workers compensation attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC for more information and a free review of your legal rights and options.
Sewage Worker Hazards
Many sewage workers and operators complain of chemical-related issues caused by short-term exposure to hazardous materials that irritate the throat, nose, and eyes. Other problems associated with the industry include repeated exposure that leads to chronic problems with internal organs and allergic reaction. Some workers repeatedly exposed to contaminants report ongoing upset stomach, vomiting, nausea, flu-like symptoms, and diarrhea. Other employees have built immunity to many of the organisms where newly hired workers are more at risk of reacting to the exposure.
- Exposure to Contaminants and Chemicals – Workers have an increased risk of developing serious airway symptoms including toxic pneumonitis, bronchitis, and symptoms involving the central nervous system including concentration difficulties, chronic fatigue, and headaches. Some employees develop gastrointestinal (G.I.) symptoms and joint pain.
- Exposure to Biohazard Waste – Studies show that wastewater treatment plans generate a high level of aerosols that contain chemical and microbiological factors. Workers exposed to the aerosol can suffer respiratory problems through inhalation. Also, volatile organics are a major component of contaminated wastewater that can easily vaporize during the treatment process. Many of the compounds found in wastewater are carcinogenic that could place the sewage worker at increased potential risk of developing cancer or birthing children with adverse congenital disabilities.
- Exposure to Infection-Latent Waste – Exposure to contaminated waterborne organisms can lead to serious infections that may present themselves as actual diseases. Biological hazards in a wastewater or sewage treatment plan include:
- Bacteria – Contaminated wastewater often contains elevated levels of bacteria that could cause the employee to suffer a variety of acute medical issues including a loss of appetite, weakness, headache, vomiting, cramps, fever and diarrhea. Common bacteria in wastewater include E. coli, typhoid fever, cholera, salmonella, and shigellosis.
- Fungus – Many contaminants that grow naturally outdoors can lead to serious allergic symptoms, including a running nose, caused by exposure to fungi. One serious health issue associated with exposure to wastewater products includes Aspergillus, a fungus that is known to cause disease through immunodeficiency.
- Viruses – The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that sewage workers can be exposed to hepatitis A that could result in liver disease. Commonly associated symptoms of deadly hepatitis A include on-and-off nausea, belly pain, fatigue, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and yellow skin (jaundice).
- Bloodborne Viruses – Exposure to the contaminants in wastewater can lead the sewage worker to develop diseases caused by HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and hepatitis B that has been directly correlated with liver disease.
Sewage Workers' Wages
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016, data concerning the employment statistics of the previous year, there were 1170 Sewage Workers were working in the Chicago, Naperville and Arlington Heights metropolitan area. On average, Sewage Workers in northeastern Illinois earn $67,900 every year (mean wage), which is $32.65 per hour. The wage is substantially higher than the national averages. See Chart
Sewage Worker Fatalities and Severe Injuries
Exposure to toxins and working in hazardous conditions can place the health and well-being of the sewage worker in danger. Some incidents involving sewer worker's injuries and fatalities include:
- Case 1: June 2017 – A West Virginia Water Authority Worker was burned by hot water when checking a sewer. Just after midnight, the Water and Sewer Authority worker was "troubleshooting a sewer pump. He removed the discharge hose from the pump, and hot sewer water ejected, striking the employee." EMT responders arrived at the scene, and the worker "was transported to the hospital." The 59-year-old male employee "was admitted and treated for burns to 19% of his body.
- Case 2: May 2017 – A 30-year-old male employee was clearing the pump in the early evening hours of May 3, 2017, to "get the turbine ready for maintenance. While flushing the pump, some [oil] got reintroduced into the pipe. When they owe a touch the water in the sewer drain, a flashback at 700 degrees [occurred] and burn the employee, who was positioned near the drain tagging valves." The worker "sustained second-degree burns to the abdomen, [and] third-degree burns of both hands and burns on both knees."
- Case 3: July 2016 – Asphyxiation claimed the life of the sewage worker at work in a gas well manhole just before noon on July 12, 2016. The incident occurred while the employee was "engaged in water and sewer line and related structure construction." Along with coworkers, the victim was "going to be working in an active sewer line [and] was walking toward the work area. There was a manhole that provided access to the active sewer line [that] had been opened to vent out the area in which the workers were going to be working. Apparently, the employee was overcome by fumes and fell from the ladder into the manhole." The man's death was determined to be asphyxiation.
- Case 4: July 2013 – A worker installing a new sewer line was burned when "a hot water line burst." The incident occurred on Wednesday, July 19, 2013, at approximately 6:00 PM. At that time, the worker was with coworkers "installing a new sewer line for the city." The approximately 400-foot sewer line was 6 inches in diameter. The workers were performing their duties in the middle of the street. The workers were installing membrane inside the sewer line and used hot water that was 150°F. However, the hot water reacted with the epoxy resin, and polyester vinyl-ethers used in the installation process when a [sleeve] connector on the manifold burst open squirting hot water all over the employee. The victim was transported to the hospital and remained there for over 24 hours. State and federal regulators are investigating the incident.
- Case 5: Watertown New York – At approximately 6:00 PM on November 21, 2017, a city employee working at the local wastewater treatment plant was killed in a worker-related accident that remains under investigation. No details of the incident have yet been revealed.
- Case 6: New York, New York – In January 2009, a water treatment plant worker in New York City was killed after being crushed by a temporary conveyor belt that collapsed at the scene. The equipment was being used temporarily to assist in the removal of grit. While coworkers were relocating the device, it buckled or twisted, and a portion fell on the forty-five-year-old worker.
Staying Safe on the Job
There are numerous steps the sewage worker and their employer can take to minimize the potential risk of suffering serious injuries, disease or harm through chemical and contaminant exposure. The employer can take steps that include:
- Rotate sewage worker personnel to perform routine operations of the treatment plan. The step reduces the level of inhalation of aerosols and air-stripped chemicals which could avoid the inhalation of disease-causing doses of contaminants.
- Properly manage ventilation in the building and install splash guards during the dewatering process, which can reduce the release of aerosols and air-stripped chemicals that are known to cause disease.
- Perform routine chemical air sampling to determine airborne levels.
- Enforce wastewater pre-treatment regulations that are known to remove air-stripping chemicals and aerosols at the source.
- Install ultraviolet lights to disinfect airborne particles.
- Never screen the contaminated material by hand to avoid injury.
- Utilize line stabilization, low-temperature composting, air drying, and aerobic/anaerobic digestion to reduce the level of pathogenic particles.
- Utilize ionizing radiation to kill coliform and salmonella bacteria.
- Provide every worker with PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) clothing and gear to reduce exposure.
- When the job is completed, remove contaminated clothing, boots, and gear.
- At the end of the shift, shower at work and leave the facility wearing clean shoes and clothing.
- Never eat, smoke or drink with dirty hands.
Maintaining worker safety requires examining and evaluating the plant's safety practices to make significant changes to ineffective procedures.
The worker can take steps to maintain their safety that includes:
- Always wash hands using clean soap and water before eating, drinking, smoking or touching the face.
- Avoid touching the eyes, mouth, nose, or ears with your hands until after they have been washed.
- Routinely trim fingernail short while using a soapy, stiff brush to clean away any harboring contaminants under the fingernails.
- Where PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) including waterproof gloves when handling screens, pumps, grit, wastewater, and sludge.
- Avoid wearing soiled work clothes.
- Never take soiled work clothes home were contaminants could easily transfer tear at home environment.
- Any time you are sick and visiting the doctor, it is crucial to state you work at a wastewater or sewage treatment plant to inform the physician that you are exposed to various extremely toxic materials.
Long-term sewage workers usually remain up-to-date on their vaccinations including diphtheria and tetanus.
The Next Step to File an Accident Injury Compensation Claim
Our law firm assists injured Sewage Workers get compensation under the IL Worker's Compensation Act and through civil lawsuits. Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers (888-424-5757) provide Free Case Reviews and a No-Win/No Fee guarantee.
Have you received only minimal amounts of workers compensation for your job-related injury? Our attorneys can show you how you are not restricted by law to seek additional compensation from third parties that might also be at fault for your damages. These additional parties could be equipment manufacturers, property owners, or many others that are negligent in their actions or lack of action to ensure that you remained safe while working.
Contact A Sewage Workers Compensation & Injury Law Firm
With legal representation, our lawyers will provide immediate services without you needing to make an upfront payment. No upfront retainers or fees are required because our personal injury law firm accepts every claim for compensation through contingency fee arrangements. The legal fees are paid only after our attorneys have successfully resolved your compensation case by negotiating an out of court settlement on your behalf or by winning your case at trial. We guarantee if we are unsuccessful at winning, you do not pay!