A Kentucky Plant Achieves An Award-Winning Run Without A Lost-Time Accident

A Kentucky plant achieves an incredible run without a lost-time accident and wins a governor’s safety award, while also boosting efficiency and improving operations.
A Kentucky Plant Achieves An Award-Winning Run Without A Lost-Time Accident
Operator Tim Pierson and colleagues practice good housekeeping as part of the safety program at the West Side Wastewater Treatment Plant.

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Operators at the West Side Wastewater Treatment Plant have always put safety first, from the time the plant started up in 1996. It began with training and monthly safety meetings.

“We would discuss the safety procedures we had put in place to cover everything from chemical storage and general housekeeping to emergency response for tornadoes and earthquakes,” says Alan Todd, superintendent at the plant in Madisonville, Ky.

Christy Brooks, safety manager, conducts training on topics such as staying safe when working around chemicals. The team also takes hazardous materials communication training given by the city’s risk manager. Topics include safety data sheets and chemical labeling and handling.

The safety program has paid off. In 2014 the plant won its ninth consecutive Governor’s Safety and Health Award from the Kentucky Labor Cabinet. To qualify, a plant must work more than 250,000 hours without a lost-time accident or occupational illness. The West Side plant was at more than 477,000 hours as of last September.

The plant has also made significant changes to save energy and improve operations. Effluent contains less than 3 mg/L BOD, less than 4 mg/L TSS and less than 0.89 mg/L ammonia.

Manufacturing hub

Madisonville, in Kentucky’s western coal fields region, is a manufacturing hub. GE Aviation, Ahlstrom and other companies have plants there and have revitalized the post-coal economy.

“About 33 percent of our customers are industrial,” says Todd. “There’s a meat packing plant, another one that makes paper filters, and there’s a hospital and a commercial laundry. We started an industrial pretreatment program in 1991 and we work with these customers to make sure their effluent meets regulations.”

The plant received a 2014 Control Authority Pretreatment Excellence Award from the Kentucky/Tennessee Water Environment Association.

Designed for 6 mgd, the plant uses an oxidation ditch process to treat an average of 4.8 mgd for 20,000 people in Madisonville, Hanson and Earlington. Equipment includes two fine screens (Lakeside Equipment Corporation), two 110-foot-diameter clarifiers (Walker Process Equipment), and two gravity thickeners (Evoqua Water Technologies, LLC). The original 1996 UV disinfection system was replaced with a TrojanUV3000Plus in 2013. Biosolids are hauled by Clay’s Trucking and landfilled.

The plant recently upgraded the SCADA system (Trihedral Engineering Limited) and conducted training in-house. “I gave everyone an iPad and showed them how to log into the computer,” says Todd. “It has worked out well. We held a one-day training with the UV manufacturer.  The new system is more automatic and will turn itself off when not needed. We’re saving $1,000 to $1,500 a month in energy costs.”

The plant has also saved by installing variable-frequency drives on the oxidation ditches. “We run only one of the two ditches and at a lower speed,” says Todd.

Doing it all

The plant’s eight full-time operators do everything from operations and maintenance to grounds work and industrial pretreatment. That includes preventive maintenance, oil changes, equipment repairs and cleaning and painting. “We have a lab technician who does all the lab work, although the operators run dissolved oxygen and pH tests in the field,” says Todd. “There is also a lab in Madisonville where we can take samples when the plant’s lab technician is out during a holiday, vacation or sick leave.”

Operators work either 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 2 to 10 p.m. Four operators work the day shift and two work the second shift. “First thing in the morning they check on the equipment, and then they meet with me to see what maintenance needs to be done,” says Tim Robards, chief operator.

Operators take part in job fairs to promote the industry and lead plant tours for school and college groups. They also attend outside training classes and seminars to obtain the 24 CEUs they need every two years to retain their certification.

Staying safe

The West Side team members are proud of the plant’s safety record and work hard to keep it. “We have different chemicals on site,” says Todd. “One is a coagulant, and we also use phosphoric acid for cleaning. So we need to make sure we store and handle these properly.”

The operators also pay close attention to preventing trips and falls and to general housekeeping. “They realize the importance of returning hand tools, power tools and electrical cords, for example, to the proper storage area to help eliminate trip and fall hazards,” Todd says. “All fuel containers are kept in locked fuel storage cabinets.”

The team members also take part in in-house training and constantly review new printed safety materials and videos. Last year’s safety meeting schedule included topics such as eye protection, hearing protection, respirators, lockout/tagout, machine guarding, electrical safety, fire extinguisher training and safe lifting. To help prevent occupational illnesses, the plant staff conducts training on bloodborne pathogens, hazardous communications, confined-space entry and personal protective equipment.

The plant’s emergency action plan, reviewed and updated every year, covers medical emergencies, fires, severe weather, natural disasters, bomb threats, chemical spills and extended power loss. The team conducts training on how to respond to an earthquake. The plant is in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, which the U.S. Geological Survey considers the most active zone east of the Rocky Mountains. “Although the plant has never experienced an earthquake, we take this seriously and cover it in the annual review of our emergency action plan,” says Todd.

Diligent training is key to the plant’s continued success. “It is difficult to even be eligible for the Governor’s Safety and Health Award, and once you are you want to continue to achieve this year after year,” says Todd. “If you even have one accident, you have to start the eligibility process all over again.”

The plant’s award certificate, mounted on a wooden plaque, is signed by Gov. Steven Beshear, Secretary of State Larry Roberts and Department of Workplace Standards commissioner Anthony Russell. The awards are part of the governor’s efforts to improve the health of all Kentuckians. Todd received the plaque at the June 2014 Governor’s Safety and Health Conference in Louisville, Ky.

Coping with storms

Plant operators and staff have been challenged by inflow and infiltration and by power outages. During heavy rains the plant has seen up to 20 mgd. “We use a coagulant during high flows,” says Todd. “It allows us to improve solids settling. We keep the chemical on hand and feed as needed.”

The plant discharges to wetlands that flow into Greasy Creek.

A severe ice storm in January 2009 created widespread power outages and damaged trees and houses. Many residents were without power for weeks, and Madisonville was placed under a curfew for citizens’ safety.

“We got 3/4 of an inch of ice and were without power at the treatment plant for 14 days,” recalls Todd. “The generators were running, but we had a problem getting fuel since we couldn’t get anyone to deliver with all the trees down.” Plant staff members finally reached a distributor in town, placed a 500-gallon tank on a trailer and drove 3.6 miles to get fuel.

“We went through a lot of fuel to keep the process running, but the generators weren’t large enough to run the oxidation ditch,” says Todd. “For six or seven days we didn’t add any oxygen to the wastewater, but we finally located and operated a portable generator so we could run the aerator. We were still able to discharge.”

Future plans

A plant upgrade in January 2015 replaced an aging belt press for biosolids dewatering with a rotary fan press (Prime Solution). “In the belt press, the sludge goes through a series of pressure points, chemical addition and then dewatering,” says Todd. “With the new press, sludge is pumped into a 48-inch rotary fan moving at 1 rpm or less.”

Like the old press, the new one can handle 80 gpm, but it is much more efficient. “We used to get 16 percent solids,” says Todd. “The new one delivers 22 percent on average and can be as high as 26 percent. It will pay for itself in reduced landfill costs.”

The team also plans to install energy-efficient lighting throughout the facility in 2015. In the meantime, the team aims to continue its safety record. “They need to trust in themselves, and if they put themselves first and follow procedures the rest will take care of itself,” Todd says.

“As their administrator, I try to lead by example. They see me with my eye protection on when I’m near a pump. They see that I’ve put that on because something in the pump can come loose. Ultimately, we all want to go home safe and sound.”   


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