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Water Department cited for 17 hazardous workplace violations

By Harold F. Cobin

NORWALK – A complaint submitted last December to the state Dept. of Labor alleging that chemical spills were not being addressed correctly at the First District Water Department’s treatment plant in New Canaan has resulted in the facility being cited for violations of Connecticut’s Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Following inspections there on Dec. 27, 2023, and Jan. 10, 2024, John D. Rosa, Director of the Labor Department’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, cited the department in February for 17 violations, resulting in uncontested penalties amounting to $2,058.

The initial amounts of some penalties imposed by OSHA were scaled back by a total of $882 after the district established a remediation plan with the state.

Fifteen of the violations were identified as “Serious” and two as “Other-than-Serious,” with three of them corrected at the time of inspection and eight of them not having to be abated until July 1.

In a statement released Tuesday night, Eleanor M. Militana, the general manager of the Water Dept., said members of the OSHA Consultation and Training program will meet with the District in April to review current conditions at the John E. Riordan Treatment Plant and begin the process of ensuring that we meet all requirements and establish training, where needed, for staff and managers.

Militana said employee safety is of the utmost importance to the District and it appreciates the oversight and support of OSHA.

“We look forward to enacting the discussed changes to provide a safer work environment and correct the violations,” Militana said.

Militana said the District met with the training arm of OSHA last November to review the division’s consultation and training programs “[t]o ensure we were providing the safest possible work environment and adhering to OSHA standards.” Plans were initiated for a visit in February, 2024, for a review of District facilities, Militana said.

But then, she said, an anonymous complaint resulted in a compliance visit by OSHA and the subsequent identification of violations and imposition of penalties.

The state advised the district’s chair, Elsa Peterson Obuchowski, of the violations by letter February 14. However, details of the inspections and violations at the Valley Road facility only became available publicly after the district had a chance to review and contest the findings.

The state provided NancyOnNorwalk the documents on the investigation Tuesday.

Here’s a summary of the violations found and corrective actions required:

  • Serious — Employer did not ensure a ladder used in the sodium hypochlorite tank room was inspected to identify any visible defects, including, but not limited to, a cracked bottom rung. | Corrected during inspection. $210 penalty.
  • Serious – Where employees would be expected to respond to a potential emergency involving hazardous substances … the employer did not develop a written emergency response plan. | Violation must be abated by July 1. $252 penalty.
  • Serious – Employees expected to respond as hazardous materials technicians to potential emergencies did not receive at least 24 hours of training equal to the first responder level and have competency in other areas. | Violation must be abated by July 1. $0 penalty.
  • Serious – Personal protective equipment was not provided, used, and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition. | Violation must be abated by April 1. $294 penalty.
  • Serious – Employer did not assess the workplace to determine if hazards were present necessitating employees use personal protective equipment. | Violation must be abated by June 3. $0 penalty.
  • Serious – Employer did not identify and evaluate the respiratory hazards in the workplace. | Violation must be abated by July 1. $294 penalty.
  • Serious – Employer did not establish a hazardous energy control program for employees who operate, maintain and service equipment and pumps. | Violation must be abated by July 1. $252 penalty.
  • Serious – Employer did not develop energy control procedures for employees who operate, maintain, and service equipment. | Violation must be abated by July 1. $0 penalty.
  • Serious – Employer did not train employees to ensure that they understood the purpose and function of the energy control program and had the knowledge and skills required for the safe application of the energy controls. | Violation must be abated by July 1. $0 penalty.
  • Serious – Suitable facilities for the quick flushing of eyes and body were not available for immediate emergency use. | Violation must be abated by March 19. $294 penalty.
  • Serious – (Electrical) junction box found with cover removed, exposing conductors. | Corrected during inspection. $210 penalty.
  • Serious – Flexible cord being used as a substitute for fixed wiring to supply electricity to a submersible water pump that was not plugged directly into a wall receptable outlet. | Corrected during inspection. $0 penalty.
  • Serious – Employer did not maintain a written hazard communication program where employees use hazardous material chemicals. | Violation must be abated by July 1. $252 penalty.
  • Serious – Hazardous chemicals found not labeled, tagged, or marked with the product identifier. | Corrected during inspection. $0 penalty.
  • Serious – Employees were not provided effective information and training on hazardous chemicals in their work areas during initial assignment and whenever a new hazard for which employees had not been trained was introduced into the area. | Violation must be abated by July 1. $0 penalty.
  • Other-than-Serious – Employer did not use proper OSHA form for recording work-related injuries and illnesses. | Violation must be abated by March 19. $0 penalty.
  • Other-than-Serious – Employer did not develop and implement a monitoring program where employees can be exposed to excessive machinery noise levels. | Violation must be abated by July 1. $0 penalty.

Management of the First District Water Dept. is overseen by the three commissioners of the First Taxing District in Norwalk. It is one of the two water suppliers to the city, along with South Norwalk Electric and Water.

The First District is an independent entity from Norwalk’s municipal government.

Last October, the water department’s employees voted to unionize and join Local 420 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which also represents South Norwalk Electric and Water workers.

On Tuesday, the local’s business manager, Joe Malcarne, said contract negotiations were to begin today.

Malcarne described safety issues at the district’s treatment plant as “an ongoing issue.”

“That’s why the [district’s] men and women are organized to begin with,” Malcarne said. “Their complaints were being unheard, unseen.”

Malcarne said OSHA had sent him a copy of the Citation and Notification of Penalty issued to the district. A copy of it must be posted in a prominent location in the treatment plant, according to the instructions included in the document.

Regarding the upcoming contract negotiations, district Chair Obuchowski released a statement Feb. 26 saying, “The First Taxing District board, management, and staff are prepared to work constructively with the newly elected union collective bargaining agreement. Now is the time for us all to come together in dedication to our purpose: serving our customers with clean, safe water.

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