Introduction and Background

"The American Water Works Association Research Foundation (AwwaRF) is member-supported, international, nonprofit organization that sponsors research to enable water utilities, public health agencies, and other professional to provide safe and affordable drinking water to consumers" (AwwaRF website, 2008). In 2003, an AwwaRF project report, "Identifying and Prioritizing Emerging Safety Issues in the Water Industry," identified critical research needs related to health and safety (Puglionesi et al., as cited in AwwaRF RFP 2). The 2003 study found that the drinking water industry has more accidents and lost workdays when compared to other utility industries. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data confirms that safety performance among water utilities lags behind general industry. OSHA non-fatal injury case rates for Water Supply and Irrigation Systems in 2006 was 5.1, compared to 4.4 for Private Industry (BLS, 2007). Rates for cases involving days away from work, job transfer, or restrictions were 3.0 for water utilities, substantially higher than the 2.3 rate for private industry.

The 2003 AwwaRF report concluded that health and safety considerations are frequently not a high priority when water conveyance, treatment, storage, and distribution facilities are designed. Designing "inherently safer" systems is an approach that has gained wide acceptance in the petrochemical industry, and is an approach that much of the water industry recognizes as a strong need for its members as well. Two factors give ‘prevention through design’ (PtD) more urgency than in the past:

  • Many of the water treatment plants and distribution systems in the U.S. are aging and are in need of major repairs, upgrades, replacement, and capacity expansion. Total capital spending toward improving this vital infrastructure is estimated to be approximately $12 billion per year with approximately annual 10% growth for at least the next 5 years (based on a Black & Veatch survey of Capital Improvement Plans of United States Cities.) This presents a huge opportunity to reduce injury risk through hazard elimination.

  • Water treatment plant operators and maintenance personnel are aging, with many nearing retirement. As this experience departs, organizational memory is lost, including skill in recognizing and avoiding hazards. Less experienced replacement workers may be more susceptible to injury from hidden hazards unless these hazards can be eliminated.

AwwaRF recognized that the earlier health and safety elements are included in the design, the greater the opportunity for building a safe facility at lower cost. With ever-changing technology, increasing standards for health and safety, and greater emphasis being placed on protecting employees and the public, there is a need to identify and communicate exemplary practices to integrate worker health and safety considerations into the design of drinking water systems. AwwaRF combined these industry needs with a few other common safety program gaps and issued Request for Proposal (RFP) 3104 titled, "Integrating Worker Health and Safety into Water Utility Operation, Management, and Facility Design."

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