Take precautions to avoid contact with waste while pumping and cleaning portable sanitation equipment.
Acouple of interesting articles in the newsletter of the Washington On-Site Sewage Association do a good job explaining the risks lurking in the material you work with every day. Executive Director John Thomas also points out that it’s possible that you could be bringing those pathogens home with you – all the more reason to wear standard personal protection equipment including gloves and goggles when you run restroom service routes.
“Research has shown that workers with routine sewage exposures exhibit respiratory dysfunction, fatigue and headache, infection and increased incidences of cancer,” Thomas writes in the Pipeline newsletter. He stresses to look for pathogens in various working environments. “Consider some of the other critters that are in your daily work schedule, riding around with you in the cab, on your clothes, your shoes or boots, your hand.”
Dangerous pathogens can live for a long time in sewage – so take care to avoid contact with waste while servicing sanitation equipment:
- Salmonella - up to two months
- Shigella (dysentery) – one month to two years
- Entamoeba histolytica – one month
- Cholera – five to 16 days
- Hepatitis A - more than a year
- Cryptosporidium – 18 months
Using a $138,000 grant from the Washington Department of Labor & Industries, WOSSA has been conducting research on hazard assessment, mitigation and training for workers exposed to residential sewage. “Presently, a disparity exists between definitive standards of exposure and workplace orientation and education with adequate tools to accurately identify these exposures and educational resources to prevent occupational illness in the workplace,” Thomas writes.
The study has been looking into identifying not only the actual exposure of workers handling raw sewage, but also subsequent exposure to others through contaminated materials and clothing, and tracking pathogens into offices, shops and vehicles.
The study will eventually result in a new WOSSA training program on pathogen protection. Once developed, the curriculum will be available to those in other states to help raise awareness and understanding of pathogen exposure so that those in the field can have better safety awareness and modify both their attitudes and workplace practices.
Thomas also reprints an email from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration responding to questions about its regulations dealing with raw sewage.
It’s probably a good idea to keep Thomas’s comments in mind the next time you sit in your truck and reach into your lunch bag to grab a sandwich – or before you walk into the house after a long day in the field and hand out hugs to the family.’