It's All About Focus

Safety is serious business at the Leominster wastewater treatment plant, recipient of the Water Environment Federation’s George W. Burke Jr. Award
It's All About Focus
Project manager Bob Chalifoux makes sure his team members at Leominster take personal responsibility for safety. (Photography by Ed Collier)

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The City of Leominster (Mass.) Water Pollution Control Facility has gone 25 years without a lost-time accident, which statistically makes it one of the safest treatment plants in New England.

In 2010, the plant won the Water Environment Federation’s George W. Burke Jr. Award, presented by the New England Water Environment Association at WEF’s regional conference in February 2011.

The annual award encourages an active and effective safety program in wastewater facilities of all sizes. Applicants are selected based on the effectiveness of formal policies and procedures, written documentation, and integration of safety into the workplace. The award is based on man-hours worked, rather than plant size.

Operated by Veolia Water North America, the 9.3 mgd Leominster plant also won the award in 1998. Other honors include EPA Region 1 O&M Excellence Awards in 1998 and 1999, an O&M Excellence honorable mention from the Massachusetts Water Pollution Control Association in 1989, and an O&M Excellence Award from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Quality Engineering in 1987. These awards are the result of an excellent safety program and culture at the plant.

“Twenty-five years without a lost-time accident is unusual for a plant this size, since we have many processes and pieces of equipment,” says Bob Chalifoux, project manager at the plant.

He says the goals of Veolia’s safety program are to provide a workplace free of hazards, to reduce opportunities for accidents, and to improve employees’ effectiveness. Facility leaders make sure employees receive proper training and that they get the proper equipment. They also instill a sense of personal responsibility for a safe workplace.

Steps to safety

The safety program at the Leominster plant was developed and is maintained by Veolia’s Environmental Health, Safety and Security Department. The program is tailored to the plant’s work environment and everyday activities.

The written policies and procedures are readily available to the staff and are continually developed, evaluated and updated. The staff receives regular companywide safety updates and safety awareness material, which management reviews with the staff to help them keep policies and procedures fresh in their minds.

Managers also review company Safety Alerts with the staff, covering specific seasonal or current topics such as flu prevention, heat-related illness, slips/trips/falls, overexertion and winter driving.

Plant staff members rotate in leading the monthly meetings, where any safety-related issues or concerns are aired, action items defined, and people assigned responsibilities, with due dates.

Requiring staff members to take part in training as students and teachers helps them retain information and encourages more interaction and participation. Training topics include hazard communications, personal protective equipment, fire protection, lock-out/tag-out, laboratory safety, chemical handling and emergency response. Staff members also get supplemental training on topics like first aid and CPR from company health and safety professionals, universities, vocational schools, professional trade organizations and state agencies.

There is a monthly safety inspection, and everyone is involved in checking items such as emergency lights, eyewash stations, emergency showers, fire extinguishers, first aid kits and emergency alarms.

Operators check the operational safety of treatment equipment on daily rounds. In an annual internal safety audit and a quarterly rotation program, plant managers visit other plants to conduct health, safety and security audits. “If these outside auditors see something that doesn’t look right or that should be addressed, they communicate that to the host facility,” says Chalifoux. “Another set of eyes is always good.”

Staying focused

But safety isn’t just about having policies, meetings and periodically checking equipment. It’s about making sure every employee has the right training and tools.

“Keeping employees engaged and focused on what they’re doing is key,” says Chalifoux. “During our safety orientation for new employees, we tell them that if they don’t understand something, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask. If we don’t have the skills for a particular task, we will go and get that skill set. Because of this philosophy, the operators are not afraid to ask. They don’t feel intimidated. We’re a small group, and everyone wants to go home at the end of the day.”

Besides safety training, plant leaders make sure operators are properly trained on equipment, technologies and wastewater principles and practices. Training is through internal and external meetings, seminars and workshops, and state-required continuing education. Detailed standard operating procedures cover tasks such as how to perform a lab test and how to chemically clean a tank.

All operators are certified in wastewater treatment, and most are certified in water treatment, as well.

Highly qualified

The Leominster plant is in good hands with 12 staff members, some of whom have many years of service. In addition to Chalifoux (project manager, Grade 7) with 28 years of experience, the team includes:

• Mark Champney, instrumentation, Grade 7, 28 years

• Ray Testagrossa, operator, water/wastewater, Grade 7, 26 years

• Richard Conant, maintenance manager, Grade 7, 26 years

• Joe Sangster, maintenance, Grade 3, 23 years

• Kim Fournier, lab manager/administrator, Grade 5, 15 years

• Ray Pandiscio, operator, water/wastewater, Grade 6, 14 years

• Wess Gallant, operator, water/wastewater, Grade 6, five years

• Brian Caron, operator, water/wastewater, Grade 6, two years

• Robert Aro, heavy equipment operator, one year

• Kate Orcuich, water operator, one year

• Tim Smith, operator/lab wastewater, Grade 2, one year

Veolia also operates the water treatment plants for the city and encourages all employees there to be dual-certified. That allows greater flexibility in staffing and provides more training and development opportunities.

The wastewater lab conducts tests for BOD/CBOD, TSS, total solids, ammonia, phosphorus, orthophosphorus, fecal coliform, chlorine residual, dissolved oxygen, pH and alkalinity. The lab also runs several process control tests to determine total pounds in the system, sludge volume index, and mean cell residence time.

The staff does all the grounds work and maintenance, and the plant gives tours for school groups and community members.

Plant history

The first wastewater treatment plant in Leominster was built in 1936 as a primary clarification/activated sludge facility. It was expanded in 1964 with the same basic process. Rapid development during the 1960s and early 1970s required another expansion. In addition, the state imposed tougher standards for solids, organics, nitrogen and phosphorus removal.

In 1977, the city hired an engineering firm to design an advanced wastewater treatment facility with more capacity to meet the tougher standards. The design was completed in 1979, and construction of the 9.3 mgd, $20 million advanced secondary activated sludge plant began in 1980.

In July 1983, the city entered a public-private partnership with Envirotech Operating Services (EOS), now Veolia. One of the oldest public-private partnerships in the nation for wastewater treatment, the agreement gave Veolia responsibility for operating and maintaining the plant.

In October 1983, the new plant began operation, and Veolia decommissioned the old plant in November 1983. To reduce costs, some of the old facilities, such as the administration building and sludge storage tanks, were renovated for the new processes.

In the new plant, wastewater enters through two sewer systems that discharge to an aerated grit chamber. It then flows to primary settling tanks, aeration tanks, lime and ferric chloride addition, final settling tanks, chlorine contact chamber and final aeration.

Key equipment suppliers were Foxboro (Invensys Operations Management), Pulsafeeder, Wallace & Tiernan (Siemens), Komline-Sanderson, Worthington Pumps (Flowserve), Philadelphia Mixing Solutions, Spencer Turbine Blowers, Fischer & Porter (ABB), and Passavant (Siemens).

The road ahead

Several plant upgrades are in progress, including the addition of a high-rate clarifier for phosphorus removal (the Actiflo system from Veolia) to meet the permit requirement for a monthly average of less than 0.20 mg/l phosphorus by November 2011. Other improvements include new chemical feed systems, an emergency generator that will power the entire facility in case of power failure, and improvements to the high-voltage electrical system. These improvements are to be complete by early 2012.

Veolia will continue to operate the plant under its 20-year contract, renewed in 1996. Meeting permit requirements, completing the up-grade, and continuing the safety program are the main goals.

“It was a high honor to win the safety award from the New England region,” says Chalifoux. “It’s also nice to receive local recognition, and the mayor of Leominster, Dean Mazzarella, has commended us for a job well done.”

Chalifoux is not about to rest on his laurels. “My entire career has been in wastewater, and I know that you have to be constantly on top of things,” he says. “You can have all the safety and training procedures in the world, but it comes down to one thing: you need the right people doing the right job, and we have that.”


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