Drowning, slips, trips, and falls; confined spaces; inadvertent exposure to energized equipment; and exposure to hazardous chemicals or gases are all obvious hazards for wastewater treatment plant workers.
Other dangers are not visible to the naked eye. Infections caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites are a constant risk for occupations that may come into contact with human faeces. Workers at wastewater treatment plants wear personal protective equipment (PPE), wash their hands frequently, and are immunized against Hepatitis A and tetanus/diphtheria. This has been the standard procedure.
In the wastewater treatment industry, solid waste hazards are well known. However, it appears that few extensive studies on potential airborne and surface hazards have been conducted.
What is the Process of Wastewater Treatment?
Every day, the plants treat million gallons of wastewater from homes and businesses. To remove contaminants, it employs a tertiary treatment that employs a combination of physical, chemical, and biological processes. Sludge, also known as biosolids, is an unavoidable byproduct of the wastewater treatment process.
Screening, clarification, and sedimentation are all part of primary treatment. This is accomplished through the use of a series of screens and grit-removal clarifiers known as "headworks."
Secondary treatment removes dissolved and suspended biological matter by employing indigenous, waterborne microorganisms in a controlled environment such as aeration tanks and settling ponds.
Tertiary treatment improves clarity, filtration, and disinfection by employing reverse osmosis or media and gravity filtration.
Sludge is dewatered using drying beds and large centrifuges. The finished product can be reused as a fertilizer. The treated water exits the wastewater treatment plant via pipes and is reused to irrigate parks, golf courses, school fields, and cemeteries.
Bacterial presence (endotoxins)
The term "endotoxin" refers to any bacterial toxin that is found in cells. It is a lipopolysaccharide complex that can be found on the outer membrane of Gram-negative pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Pseudomonas, Neisseria, Haemophiles influenzae, Bordetella pertussis, and Vibrio cholera. Many of these Gram-negative bacteria have been linked to foodborne illness, causing symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, cramps, vomiting, headaches, weakness, or loss of appetite.
Hepatitis A presence
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Hep-A is an acute, contagious liver disease with an incubation period of approximately 28 days that can range in severity. From two weeks before to one week after the onset of clinical illness, Hep-A replicates in the liver and is shed in high concentrations in faeces. Hepatitis A is typically transmitted when a person consumes faecal matter after coming into contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by an infected person's faeces, or stool. The infection is a self-limiting disease that does not lead to chronic infection or chronic liver disease.
Requirements for regulation and best practices: Steps to take
1: Workers and visitors should, at the very least, wear nitrile gloves. When performing tasks that may involve contact with human waste, employees should consider double gloving with nitrile on the inside and thicker rubber gloves on the outside. When choosing gloves, dexterity should be taken into account. Employees are unlikely to wear gloves that make performing work tasks difficult.
2: Throughout the plant, handwashing stations with automatic sensors or foot pedals should be installed. Handwashing thoroughly before eating, drinking, or smoking is advised. Employee breaks should be taken in a separate room away from the work area. Visitors should have access to handwashing and sanitizing stations.
3: Face shields worn with safety glasses or goggles can help prevent splashes to the eyes, mouth, and nose because some pathogens can be absorbed by mucous membranes. Where biosolids are aerosolized, such as during the aeration and digestion processes, respiratory protection, such as N95 filtering facepieces, should be used at a minimum.
4: Employees may be encouraged to cover cuts with bandages and finger cuts if first-aid kits containing bandages and finger cuts are provided. The first-aid kits will have to be replenished on a regular basis. Employees should be trained on how to properly use their personal protective equipment (PPE), including disinfection and storage, as well as the limitations of PPE.
5: Finally, employees must understand how to report safety concerns. Addressing concerns early on will aid in the prevention of injuries and provide a platform for educating front-line workers.