Protecting Sewage Treatment Workers from Infection


Sewage treatment workers are at high risk of infectious diseases such as hepatitis from exposure to sewage.  The best protection against infection is to avoid direction contact with sewage water, droplets and aerosols.  Management should institute engineering controls to reduce foaming at aeration basins and splashing of water around tanks.  Adequate ventilation should be provided in grit chambers, bar screens and sludge areas.

Workers have become ill when cross connections occurred between a plant’s water supply and sewage lines.  Management should check drinking water supplies routinely to avoid these outbreaks.

Workers should be trained about the nature of infectious diseases. Such training should in the nature of the hazard, methods of entry into the body, symptoms ands areas in the facility where there may be high risk of exposure to biological hazards.

When workers cannot avoid contact with sewage, management should provide the following protective equipment and services:

• Elbow – length rubber gloves;
• Rubber pants and jackets;
• Goggles;
• Disposable mask to be work in dusty sludge areas and areas with heavy aerosols; and/or commercial high temperature (160%)washing machines for work clothing ( only high temperatures will kill cysts)

Workers should also take the following precautions:

• Wash gloves before removing them; sinks should have pedal controls.
• Wash hands before smoking and eating; a germicidal (disinfectant) soap should be used.
• Keep protective clothing and equipment out of eating areas.
• Keep work clothes and street clothes in separate lockers.
• Shower and change in to street clothes before going home.
• Launder all work clothing on site-never take them home.
• Act as though all cuts or abrasions are potentially infected.  Flush them with large amounts of clean running water and antiseptic soap, and bandage them with a sterile dressing.
• Have a tetanus booster every 10 years.  Those who have never been vaccinated for polio should consult a physician about getting a vaccination.  (Management should keep track of public health developments in case vaccinations against typhoid, paratyphoid, leptospirosis or diphtheria are needed).
• Get vaccinated for hepatitis A.  Workers who are in sewers that may contain fresh blood or come into regular contact with used syringes or body parts should receive the hepatitis B vaccination.  There currently is not vaccine for hepatitis C.
• Trucks that carry materials contaminated with sewage should be washed frequently.
• Seek medical attention when you have diarrhea or are ill.  Since doctors are often unaware of the connections between occupation and diseases be sure to inform your personal physician of job exposure to sewage.