The Importance of Operator Safety Training

The Importance of Operator Safety Training
Training the safety officer and operators is extremely important. Plant safety officers should be the frontline agents for worker safety at the plant.

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As a licensed water and wastewater operator, you all know your primary task is protecting the public from contaminated drinking water or pathogenic effluent. Keeping water and wastewater operators, laboratory technicians, and collection and distribution system workers safe is equally important. 

Many of the tasks utility workers and plant operators perform can result in hazardous situations. Public and private municipalities must follow general industry and construction guidelines at the plant or in the field. OSHA defines general industry as all industries not including agriculture, construction or maritime. Construction work is defined as alterations, construction, and/or repair, including decorating and painting. 

Worker safety for the water and wastewater field is regulated for the most part by state OSHA programs, state Department of Environmental Protection Agencies, or even the individual department heads. However, each plant should have its own written safety and health program for operator training. Plant safety officers should be the frontline agents for worker safety in a municipality. 

Many safety officers wear other hats such as chief operator, maintenance coordinator and laboratory manager. Regardless of other positions held, the safety officer needs to be properly trained. 

Training the safety officer and workers is extremely important. Based on 10 years of data from OSHA, the most common injuries at water and wastewater facilities are amputated fingers, electrical burns, getting caught in pivot point, trench collapse, and even some fatalities. Preventing these and other accidents should be reason enough to ensure your safety officer and operators are properly trained in safety.   

How to train 

So how do you train operators in safety? I suggest starting with the Certified Occupational Safety Specialist (COSS) program. The COSS program is a weeklong course that covers worker compensation, general industry, construction, and how to give a safety presentation. 

For further training, contact your local American Association of Safety Councils office and ask about worker safety programs. These programs include driver safety, flagging courses, and OSHA 10- and 30-Hour General Industry and Construction courses. There are also certification programs through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals. There are different requirements with each certification and budget considerations to fit a variety of needs. 

Water and wastewater associations can be a great source for worker safety courses for a reasonable price. In addition, the majority of courses offered by operator associations are approved for the state Continuing Education Units (CEUs). 

However, if the utility has a safety consultant or can bring in a consultant, then safety training can be site specific. Safety consultants train workers on the equipment they use in the same environment that the operators work. Moreover, having a safety professional come to the utility saves travel and hotel costs. 

There also are free safety training classes for the safety officer that feels they can perform the training, but needs the right material. OSHA’s website,, has a Safety & Health Training Resources page with safety topics listed alphabetically. Resources include PowerPoint presentations, student handout pages, and instructor notes with lesson plans. 

The last step is to decide what path to take for your utility. You might use a combination of training options, but let them lead to a safer work environment. Protecting public health is priority one. Let’s make worker safety equally important. Be safe, be professional, be well informed. 

About the Author

Sheldon Primus is a Class A licensed wastewater operator with more than 18 years of industry experience. He is a Certified Occupational Safety Specialist, authorized OSHA outreach instructor, and hold a master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in environmental policies. He has held positions as a laboratory operator, chief operator, plant superintendent, safety and compliance officer, and industrial pretreatment coordinator. 

Primus is CEO of Utility Compliance Inc. based in Port St. Lucie, Fla., which helps utilities in industrial pretreatment and risk management program compliance, water and wastewater CEU training, as well as occupational safety program development and OSHA outreach training for general industry and construction. He is also an online adjunct instructor for the Environmental Science Department at Florida Gateway College. He can be reached at or 888/398-0120.


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