Manholes are dangerous places to work, not only because they’re confined spaces, but also because of the danger to health and safety unique to the site. Municipal Sewer & Water magazine published the article Safety Tips for Working In and Around Manholes, and our safety experts think its safety experts have great advice for workers; here are some things you need to know about manhole safety.
Never go into a worksite without proper training; be prepared for whatever you find inside a manhole and minimize as many risks as possible before anyone enters. The entrant needs to know what he or she is doing and how to use the equipment, but the attendants working outside the manhole supporting the entrant also must follow their best practices and be trained to respond to emergencies for the safety of the worker inside. While there aren’t official suggestions for vaccinations for sewage workers, many employers provide voluntary vaccinations; talk with your physician about what works for you.
Checking manhole safety isn’t a matter of throwing a lit match into the shaft to detect poisonous or explosive vapors. The confined space must have a certificate validating its safety before anyone may enter. Make sure all gas valves are closed and any generators you use to power equipment are away from the hole, to avoid breathing in toxic fumes. Remove any sludge in the pipe as it can be a source of toxic gas. Every time work is scheduled or being completed, complete safety checks to minimize the chance of accidents in and around the area.
As with all confined spaces, the situation inside a manhole can change very quickly, so it’s important to be properly prepared for anything, and the safety, rescue and communication equipment you might need at a moment’s notice is in working order.
Warning signs are important not only for worker safety, but passersby safety, too. Passersby need to be informed of the risks of any sewer work being done, and if they’re not warned, they might get too close for comfort out of curiosity. When there’s work being done around an open manhole, put up plenty of warning signs and fencing. In addition, there should be workers or attendants outside the manhole; not only do they need to be there for entrants in case of an emergency, but they can warn away anyone who tries to get too close.
Manholes are full of dangerous contaminants. Bacteria, protozoa, viruses and parasitic worms are in sewage and can cause diseases in humans, so it’s important to be properly protected if you’re in contact with sewage. Personal protective equipment such as hazmat suits can ensure these contaminants are kept off your body as well as keep you from getting hurt, and employers should be mindful about providing equipment and enforcing its use.
Proper safety precautions can reinforce the protection equipment provides. Don’t touch your nose, eyes, mouth, face or any open wounds while working inside a manhole; only eat at designated areas away from the jobsite. Be cautious about contaminating clean areas: Keep any sewer materials you’re handling or disposing of away from clean areas, and make sure wastewater and debris are removed from footgear before anyone goes inside. All sewer workers should practice standard hygiene procedures given to them by health and safety professionals, and this training should be revisited to make sure best practices are employed.
You need protection from contaminants, but manholes are enclosed spaces that require other safety gear and the training to use it properly. Outside the manhole, maintain a first-aid kit that contains appropriate supplies. It should include a way for workers to gently flush debris or wastewater out of their eyes, like an eyewash station.
Properly maintain and inspect safety equipment for confined spaces before each job. This includes checking safety harnesses, rescue ropes, breathing devices, protective clothing and safety helmets. As with any confined space, manhole safety equipment should include a ventilation blower that allows fresh air to be supplied for continuous worker safety.
Coworkers inside and outside the manhole are crucial parts of making sure your job is done safely. Safety is a team effort, even if the enclosed space is only large enough for one person to work inside. Keeping this in mind guarantees the entire worksite and everyone in and around it is safe.
Each worksite will have a “competent person” with the credentials and experience needed to outline all the safety requirements to make sure everyone is up-to-date on best practices. There should be a person running the worksite who is responsible for implementing precautions on the site itself, as well as maintaining, inspecting and evaluating equipment needed for descending before each job. Workers are responsible for erecting fencing and warning signs to ensure passersby and workers are safe, and there should be enough workers outside the manhole to quickly and effectively respond to any accidents.
Proper training and proper confined space equipment, when combined in workplace safety culture, can decrease the risk of accidents, injuries and even personal-injury lawsuits. PK Safety can help with the equipment. We’ve been in the safety business for many years and know our way around PPE, gas monitors, gloves, communication kits and other manhole safety equipment. We’re also knowledgeable and passionate about safety in general. If you have questions about your equipment or need safety information, get in touch online or by phone at 800.829.9580 to talk to one of our safety experts.