Sewage workers clean, maintain and repair sewer lines and drains. This often includes working underground in conditions that are less than favorable. Sewage and wastewater workers are vulnerable to a variety of injuries due to the nature of their work. The most common injuries are:
Sewage workers may be injured if they come into contact with certain chemicals. Chemical exposure may cause toxic pneumonitis, bronchitis, chronic fatigue, headache and gastrointestinal problems. Sewage workers who are exposed to chemicals also commonly report contact dermatitis, which irritates the skin and can be painful.
Sewage workers commonly report musculoskeletal injuries that cause chronic back pain, neck pain or joint injuries. Upper back injuries are the most commonly reported (72.8%), followed by neck (54.8%) and lower back injuries (52.4%).
Biological hazards are a particular concern among sewage workers. Biological hazards cause injury or illness that can be serious or even life-threatening. Such hazards include:
- Bacteria: Bacteria may cause diarrhea, cramps, vomiting, headache, fever and weakness.
- Fungus: Funguses may cause allergic symptoms like runny nose, lung infection or worsening of asthma symptoms.
- Parasites: Cryptosporidium and Giardia Lamblia can cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea and fever. Roundworm parasites may cause a cough, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain and in severe cases blocked intestines.
- Viruses: Hepatitis A may cause fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea and jaundice.
- Bloodborne Pathogens: Sewage workers are at risk for Hepatitis B, HIV and AIDS.
How Sewage Workers Can Stay Safe
Sewage workers can do their part to prevent injuries and illness on the job. Together with their employer, sewage workers can reduce the risk of these hazards by:
- Maintaining proper ventilation at work sites
- Performing routine airborne chemical samples
- Enforcing wastewater regulations
- Utilizing line sterilization practices
- Using proper personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Using disposable or washable clothing and boots
- Washing hands before eating or drinking
- Avoiding wearing soiled clothing outside the work environment
Any injury or illness should be reported to your supervisor immediately. You should also get medical treatment as soon as possible.