Health & Safety for Drainage Superintendents: Hazards to Consider
calendar icon August 5th, 2015
Health & Safety for Drainage Superintendents: Hazards to Consider

Drainage Inspection can be unpredictable work. When moving from one site to another, the workplace is constantly changing and Drainage Superintendents often find themselves in environments outside of their control. As a result, they face a number of hazards on the job, and are vulnerable to occupational injuries and illnesses.


To avoid a devastating workplace accident or incident, it is important for Drainage Superintendents to be able to recognize hazards which may cause them harm, and understand the best methods for controlling the risks.


What the Law Says


Ontario has legislation in place to safeguard Drainage Superintendents and other workers while on the job. The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) protects workers from occupational hazards, assigns roles and responsibilities to all workplace parties and promotes active participation in improving workplace health and safety.


In addition to the OHSA, there are many regulations, standards, codes of practice and guidelines that must be followed, including:


  • Electrical Codes
  • City Bylaws
  • Environmental Protection Act (EPA)



Roles & Responsibilities


Under the OHSA, Drainage Superintendents have the following roles and responsibilities:


  • Work in compliance with the OHSA and its regulations.
  • Use or wear any equipment, protective devices or clothing required by the employer, and report any known missing or defective equipment or protective devices to the supervisor or employer.
  • Report any known hazards to the supervisor or employer.
  • Report any known violation of the OHSA or regulations to the supervisor or employer.
  • Participate in any provided training.
  • Do not remove or make ineffective any protective device required by the regulations or the employer.
  • Do not use or operate any equipment or work in a way that may endanger yourself or any other worker. (i.e. Do not engage in any prank, contest, feat of strength, unnecessary running or rough and boisterous conduct.)


By contravening or failing to comply with a provision of the OHSA or regulations, or an order from the Ministry of Labour, every person is guilty of an offence. Upon conviction, a person can be fined up to $25,000 and/or imprisonment for a term of up to twelve months. If a corporation is convicted, the fine is $500,000 per offence.




In addition to their responsibilities, the OHSA entitles Drainage Superintendents three workplace rights.


1. The Right to Know: You have the right to know about any potential hazard to which you may be exposed. This means you have the right to receive training and safety instruction on machinery, equipment, working conditions and potentially hazardous substances and physical agents. If you are unsure of the safety of a task or process, it is imperative that you speak to your supervisor prior to performing the task.


2. The Right to Participate: You have the right to participate in the process of identifying and resolving health and safety concerns. You can formally express this right by volunteering to become a member of the Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC), by making suggestions and reporting hazards, and by participating in the health and safety training provided by your workplace.


3. The Right to Refuse Unsafe Work: You have the right to refuse work that you have reason to believe may put you or another worker in danger. Prior to a work refusal, you must speak to your supervisor about your concern. If the issue cannot be resolved, the JHSC Worker Representative becomes involved and a formal refusal process is enacted.


Common Workplace Hazards


A hazard is a source, situation or act with the potential to cause injury, illness or even death. While Drainage Superintendents are not in control of their work sites, they should be familiar with common job hazards and recognize whether proper controls have been implemented in order to protect their safety.


The following six occupational hazards are the most common among Drainage Superintendents.


1. Trenching
Trenching is a high hazard activity that results in 3-4 annual fatalities, as well as hundreds of lost time injuries due to falls, falling materials and sprains and strains.


Since the soil is exposed to a variety of elements during the work time, such as rain, freezing, thawing, wind, sun and vibrations, there is a risk that the soil will erode or shift. The longer the trench is open, the greater the danger.


If you encounter a trench at one of your assigned work sites, do your best to avoid the area. If it cannot be avoided, be sure to maintain at least a 1 meter perimeter away from the trench or assure that trench is in compliance with the regulations contained in the OHSA.


Prior to any excavation, contact Ontario One Call (ON1Call) to obtain locates for any underground infrastructure such as gas lines, power lines and communication lines. Failure to obtain locates could cause serious injury or death and is an offence under the Ontario Underground Infrastructure Notification System Act, 2012.


2. Slips, Trips and Falls
In simple terms, a slip or fall occurs when our centre of our body is outside the area of support and we cannot shift back. Slips, trips and falls can occur when there are unexpected changes in a walking surface, poor lighting, variable environmental conditions, improper footwear and a variety of other physiological and psychological factors.


To avoid slips, trips or falls, you need to be aware of your surroundings, identify hazards and implement controls, such as:


  • Anti-slip footwear and slip-resistant materials
  • Use of properly maintained personal protective equipment (fall prevention, fall arrest systems)
  • Working at Heights or Fall Prevention training
  • Policies and procedures
  • Proper construction/maintenance of working and walking surfaces
  • General housekeeping and maintenance
  • Warning signs, colour strips and floor mats
  • Adequate lighting
  • Guardrails and handrails
  • Proper supervision
  • Job re-design


3. Confined and Hazardous spaces
Confined Space Regulation 625/05 defines a confined space as a fully or partially enclosed space that is not both designed and constructed for continuous human occupancy, and in which atmospheric hazards may occur because of its construction, location or contents or because of the work that is done in it. Confined spaces may include tunnels, manholes, vaults and sump pits.


Before entering a confined space, you must have appropriate training, documentation and the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), as well as knowledge of the proper procedures for entry and rescue. In your role, entry into a confined space should not be required, but recognition of a confined space and knowledge of the hazards encountered is critical. Always call ahead before arriving at all building or construction sites to find out what additional PPE may be required.


4. Electrical Hazards
There are three major sources of electrical injuries and fatalities: contacting overhead power lines, coming in contact with buried cables and running into power lines with machinery. Shock-related injuries include burns, internal injuries, such as tissue destruction, nerve or muscle damage, and involuntary muscle contraction.


To prevent electrocution caused by electrical hazards, Drainage Superintendents should:


  • Ensure that the location is de-energized. Ask for the Lockout/Tagout procedure when visiting sites. (Lockout/Tagout procedure: a safety procedure which is used in workplaces to ensure that machinery is shutdown, or shut off, before maintenance or servicing of the machinery is started.)
  • Recognize the use of non-conductive insulators.
  • Ensure adequate guarding is installed.
  • Ensure elevation restricts access.
  • Ensure that circuit protection devices (breakers) are installed.
  • Ensure equipment is grounded, especially if used in wet locations.
  • Establish safe work practices.
  • Wear appropriate PPE.


Before you inspect a work area, it is crucial to identify all electrical hazards, especially overhead power lines. It is a good practice to consider all electrical wires and equipment as live until they are tested and proven otherwise. Drainage Superintendents should speak to the contractor, supervisor or person in charge about the dangers of overhead wires and assure locates have been obtained for underground power lines.


5. Driving

As a Drainage Superintendent, you drive to inspect a variety of sites. Because of this, you must understand the importance of staying safe while on the road.


Historically, motor vehicle accidents in Ontario have accounted for more than 25% of work-related injuries.


Examples of common driving hazards include:


  • Operating a mechanically unfit vehicle
  • Operating under the influence of drugs, medication or alcohol
  • Speeding
  • Distractions (mobile phone)
  • Environmental (black ice, flooding, snow)
  • Visibility (weather, darkness)
  • Poor road conditions (construction)
  • Lack of training
  • Failure to wear seat belts
  • Exhaustion
  • Other drivers


To protect yourself against some of these common driving hazards, it is vital to maintain your focus on driving only. Never drive under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication, and ensure that you are well rested before hitting the road. Make sure you, and any passengers, are safely belted in. Always drive the speed limit or adjust to traffic or atmospheric conditions, and remember to keep a proper following distance. Remember to regularly maintain and winterize your vehicle, and carry an emergency kit just in case.


6. Musculoskeletal Disorders
The musculoskeletal system includes muscles, tendons, tendon ligaments, joints, spinal discs and other connective tissues. Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) can affect all of these body parts as well as the nerves, bursas, protective sheaths and blood vessels. Musculoskeletal disorders are often caused by repetition, insufficient rest and continued overuse, and the overloading of tissues.


The three major risk factors are: force, posture and repetition. For most tasks, all three of these factors are present at various degrees. Tasks that require a combination of excessive force with prolonged repeated actions and require a worker to assume an awkward posture will dramatically increase the risk of injury.


As you perform your daily tasks, always consider posture, duration, weight and speed of movementBeing aware of these factors will decrease your risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders.


Protect Yourself


To protect your health and safety, there is a need to be proactive rather than reactive. Failure to assess and control these hazards can result in the loss of work hours, damage to property, injury and death.


As a Drainage Superintendent, you must:


Recognize potential hazards at each site you visit. Assess the hazards. Recognize the proper control measures for each hazard. Evaluate whether the controls are in place and working correctly to protect you for the time you are on site.


When identifying hazards at any job, you must consider the 5 factors that are affected by, or contribute to, hazards in the workplace.


  • People
  • Equipment
  • Material
  • Environment
  • Process


In any workplace, people, equipment, materials, environment and process must fit together properly – like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Consider each of these factors when recognizing hazards and thinking through controls.


It is important to keep in mind that perception of risk is very individual. What you consider a hazard will depend on your experiences, what you have done, and what you have been exposed to in your life. People with more experience on the job may more readily recognize the hazards. However, sometimes hazards are missed because they seem commonplace. Whatever your perception may be, it is important to raise any concerns with your supervisor. Never be afraid to ask questions; your right to know includes a right to information.


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