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Getting Your Safety Program Started

So you want to develop and implement a safety program. Where to start? What do you need to do first?

Commitment to Health and Safety

The number one thing needed for a successful safety program is commitment. And that commitment must start at the very top.

If you work for a private utility, that means your Board of Directors and CEO must fully support the safety program. Or if you work for a local government or agency, the City Council, Commission, or Governing Board and top staff management must be on board.

You might wonder why you need approval from people who may never step foot in your plant. You need their support because a good safety program requires resources—time, money, equipment, supplies, training.

Your leaders need to know about the risks employees face and do their part to alleviate those risks.

Having top-level support plus buy-in from the operators and technicians creates a safety culture throughout the entire organization.

Do a Hazard Assessment

Now that both top management and the employees are committed to having a safety program, the next step is to do a site assessment of the treatment plant (or plants if there’s more than one in the system).

Operation and maintenance employees should help with the assessment. Not only are they most familiar with the plant, but when they help put the program together, it becomes theirs.

As you know, each treatment plant is unique. The assessment consists of going through every step in the water or wastewater treatment process from beginning to end, looking for potential risks. Also, consider any past accidents or close calls.

Write down every possible health or safety issue. After all, you can’t eliminate or control hazards if you don’t know what they are. For example, at a wastewater plant:

Start at the headworks. What type of screening do you have? Let’s say you have automatic bar screens. Imagine every way someone could get hurt at the bar screens.

Is there a risk of falling into the channel?
Could someone get a hand caught in the screen while trying to clear a jam?
Is it possible to get an electric shock if the bar screen control needs to be reset?

And so on.

You may find safety problems that need immediate attention that weren’t on the radar before. We all have a tendency to ignore some of the most obvious problems when we walk by them every day.

At any rate, the assessment will be the foundation for building the health and safety program.

Determine Which Safety Regulations Apply

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has no authority over local governments or agencies. If you work for a city, county or utility authority OSHA won’t inspect your plant or penalize your utility. In some states, the Department of Labor regulates workplace safety and may do inspections or assess fines for safety violations.

Regardless, you should be aware of the OSHA regulations and incorporate them into your safety program. They were developed to protect employees and following the regulations can save lives. So even if you don’t have to abide by OSHA regs, do it anyway.

Not all OSHA regulations will apply to your plant. You’ll have to look through the rules and compare with your plant hazard assessment.

For instance, if you use chemicals at your plant (most likely), the Hazard Communication rule will apply. Because treatment plants often have above ground tanks, requirements of the Fall Protection rule should be incorporated into the safety program.

Developing the Health and Safety Program

Using information gathered from the hazard assessment combined with the regulatory requirements, develop the treatment plant safety program. All employees should participate in some way—developing procedures and policies, designing forms, determining inspection schedules or other related actions.

Put your health and safety program in writing. The program should include

  • a safety mission statement, goals and objectives—signed by executive management
  • a statement of responsibilities for management and employees including an organization chart
  • a summary of how hazards will be identified, analyzed and controlled
  • safety policies and procedures
  • a training matrix and schedule
  • forms, including accident investigation, incident or near-miss reports, regulatory reports, etc.
  • safety inspection guidelines and schedule
  • first aid and emergency procedures
  • accident and incident investigation, reporting and corrective action
  • safety committees
  • safety meetings (committee meetings, tailgate meetings) 
  • methods for continuous improvement


Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? That’s one more reason for everyone to get involved. You’ll be surprised at how quickly it will all come together.

 Why Have a Safety Program?

 Maybe you don’t think you need a safety  program  to be  safe.

 After all, nobody wants to be injured, right? People  should be inherently safe, so why do we need a  safety  program?

 That’s a nice theory, but if it’s true, why do people  get  hurt? Contrary to what you may hear, accidents  don’t  just happen. Often, many factors contribute to  the  cause of the accident.

  We'll discuss later why the "inherent safety" theory  doesn't work.

 In addition to injuries, many employees become ill  from  work-related activity. For instance, a  wastewater plant  operator may be exposed to  Hepatitis A or other  diseases. That’s why many  agencies or companies refer  to their programs as a  “Safety and Health Program,” or a  “Safety and  Health Management System.”

 No matter what you call it, having a safety program  benefits everyone.

  • Reduced accidents and illnesses means less pain and suffering for employees and their families.
  • Reduced absenteeism and turnover
  • Reduced insurance and accident-related costs for the employer
  • Less stress and better morale for employees
  • Improved customer service


 Of course, the Occupational Safety and Health  Administration (OSHA) or state Department of Labor  require some facilities to have a safety program.

 But, the real reason you should have a safety  program?  Because it’s the right thing to do for  the  employees, the  employer, and the water and  sewer  customers.

 So let’s get going!

​​​    TREATMENT PLANT SAFETY