Personnel Safety Training

Fall Protection Reduces Risk

EP Editorial Staff | September 1, 2021

Nine BILCO floor doors were installed at a Connecticut water-treatment station. Photos courtesy Bliss Photography & Studios

Wastewater facility uses doors with fall-protection grating to provide a safer work environment.

A September 2020 event in McCook, NE, shattered the tight-knit community to its core. Two workers died in an accident at the town’s wastewater facility, including the facility’s long-time superintendent. Details concerning the accident remain unclear, but deadly incidents at wastewater facilities are not uncommon. Workers at facilities in Texas, Tennessee, New York, and California also died that year.

The town of Waterford, CT, recently took a major step forward to improve safety at its water-treatment plants. The town installed nine doors, manufactured by The BILCO Co., New Haven, CT (, that include fall-protection grating. The doors that were replaced had corroded over time and lacked fall protection, as do many older doors.

“The old hatches were not required to have fall protection,” said Jim Bartelli, Assistant Director of the Waterford Utility Commission. “When the hatches are open, workers could possibly trip and fall into the opening. The new hatches have fall-protection provisions that meet OSHA standards.”

Dangerous work

Wastewater-treatment workers face dangerous plant conditions. A daily hazard is accessing wet wells. The wells contain chambers to receive and hold sewage until it’s pumped out. They also hold submersible pumps and valves. The valves stop the flow from incoming sewer lines to allow inspection, repair, and cleaning. There are also switches for motors, cables, sewage-level indicators, and guide pipes.

The advent of flushable wipes has created another safety issue. Wipes snag on sewer-pipe imperfections and catch passing debris and grease that will enlarge and eventually clog pipes. They also get drawn into pumps at the plants. The only way to remove them is for workers to enter the well and manually remove the wipes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased use of flushable wipes and discarding them into the wastewater system. A toilet-paper shortage in the early stages of the pandemic also led to flushing paper towels and napkins. Wipes and paper towels do not break down in wastewater treatment, causing massive sewer-line backups.

Work at the plants is among the unhealthiest jobs in America, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Workers are exposed to chlorine and hydrogen-sulfide gas, and sewage and wastewater contain bacteria, funguses, parasites, and viruses that can cause lung, intestinal, and other infections.

Safe Choice

The doors selected for the Waterford facilities have two advantages. The fall-protection grating is factory installed, which hastened the installation process. The doors also have a wide opening. “That will allow better access to the wet well for removing debris,” Bartelli said.

The BILCO doors used in the replacement averaged 4 ft. x 5 ft. Work on the project included the removal of existing doors, excavating around the perimeter, re-pouring concrete, and some asphalt repair. Work needed to be done in stages because the pump stations are active work sites.

The doors include a channel-frame finish and are used in situations where there is a concern of water or other liquids entering the access opening. Doors are available in single- and double-leaf sizes and use aluminum construction and stainless-steel hardware. Fall-protection grating can also be installed on existing doors. Bartelli said the doors also seal better, especially critical in that one of the town’s stations sits in a flood plain. Doors and other equipment at wastewater facilities frequently decay faster due to the corrosive environment. Contaminants and moisture create a toxic environment that expedites corrosion. 

Hazards loom at every turn at water-treatment plants, and it was important for Waterford officials to do their part to make certain they provided workers with the safest equipment. Not all injuries can be prevented by doors that offer fall protection but having the proper equipment in place can go a long way to ensuring the work environment is as safe as possible. EP

For more information, visit


Sign up for insights, trends, & developments in
  • Machinery Solutions
  • Maintenance & Reliability Solutions
  • Energy Efficiency
Return to top