The utility industry forms the core of our energy infrastructure. The public depends on its services and rightly takes for granted that the electricity is always flowing. But with this service comes a number of public and occupational hazards. Workers suffer illnesses and injuries from exposure to spills or leaks of radiation, chlorine gas, PCB-contaminated oil, sulfuric acid, or potassium permanganate. Other hazards include: electrocution, crushing from cave-ins during excavations, asbestos, mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium and other heavy metals to name a few. We see UWUA members at work in everyday lives, but their work hazards go unnoticed. Similarly, the public hazards from the industry such as air and water pollution and catastrophic releases of toxins often are seen as everyday circumstances until there is a dramatic accident that draws our attention to the utility industry, such as Three Mile Island. More often than not, a worker training is the first and only line of defense to either prevent or stem hazards in the workplace or the public. Sometimes these invisible hazards break into full view as happened during the Kingston, Tennessee coal ash spill. The spill deposited about 5.4 million cubic yards of fly ash sludge into the Emory River and its environs destroying or damaging 26 homes with an expected cleanup cost $1 Billion (2). There are less spectacular hazards of coal-fired electrical plants'combustion by-products that are reported in the EPA's Steam Electric Power Generating Point Source Category: Final Detailed Report: The total amount of toxic pollutants currently being released in wastewater discharges from coal-fired power plants is estimated to be significant and raises concerns regarding the long-term impacts to aquatic organisms, wildlife, and human health that are exposed to these pollutants.""""""""(3) Even though the EPA has yet to classify coal ash as hazardous waste, they are applying their own hazardous waste standard to it. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensations and Liability Act (CERCLA) is now used as the guiding standard for coal incident clean-ups. Additionally, the EPA has determined that at least 44 other holding ponds across the United States pose a """"""""High Hazard"""""""" to nearby communities (4). Because coal fly ash sludge stored in holding ponds does not easily become airborne, it doesn't pose a severe health risk to workers. However, electrical generation workers can be exposed to dry coal ash that may become airborne in electrical generation facilities. Coal combustion by-products escape boilers that lack scrubbers. In the case of positive flow boilers, coal ash dust escapes through holes in the boiler and covers everything around the boiler. This dry coal ash dust often contains inorganic arsenic, hexavalent chromium, mercury, and lead. When dry, this ash dust can contaminate workers through inhalation or ingestion, causing chronic health problems to exposed workers. Utility workers are exposed to hazardous substances through a wide variety of venues. Like industrial workers they may be exposed to a broad array of hazardous chemicals that are used onsite during the manufacturing process (making electricity, purifying drinking water). Like construction workers, they may be exposed to contaminated soil during excavation/trenching operations to install, maintain or repair pipes or lines. Like service workers they must go to industrial settings or other potentially hazardous sites to install, maintain or repair the equipment that distributes the product. Finally, like Emergency Response workers they are first responders to natural, man-made or accidental disasters to repair and to reestablish utility service. Rationale for the training: Utility workers can be exposed to hazardous waste onsite at the generation plant;offsite in the transmission, distribution or collection system, servicing industrial and hazardous waste sites;or responding to a utility loss of service emergency. Onsite, large storage tanks of hazardous chemicals may leak and expose workers to toxins. In addition, pipes or valves that transport chemicals to treat water at electrical generation or water purification may leak and expose workers to hazardous chemicals, including incompatibles, during maintenance and/or repair. Hazardous waste is stored at many generation plants, including spent nuclear fuel rods or slurry ponds containing chemical residue from scrubber purge, boiler blow down, metal cleaning wastewater, and miscellaneous cooling water, as well as coal combustion by-products. Offsite, workers are exposed to unknown contaminants during maintenance or repair of underground pipes or lines. They can be exposed from toxins in the soil during excavation or, in the case of sewer workers, exposed to toxic industrial waste or medical waste in the line. Finally, utility workers are first responders to emergencies. They respond to emergencies both at their home location, as well as throughout the Nation at pre-agreed geographical regions through Mutual Aid Pacts (MPAs) which send utility workers to repair all manner of utility service outages in the most disagreeable and dangerous conditions. Depending on the emergency, whether natural or man-made, utility service interruptions in highly dangerous chemical, petrochemical, refining, or other industrial sites, as well as hazardous waste cleanup sites, require utility workers, in their role as first responders, to confront a variety of hazards while working to restore utility service. The workforce of the utility industry is also in flux, which brings a different set of hazards. The industry is experiencing unprecedented changes due to former deregulation and restructuring. In addition to the reduction of workforce numbers over the years when new workers were not added to the workforce, we are now experiencing a crisis of an aging workforce. """"""""The average age of an energy utility employee is steadily rising; since 1995 the number of industry workers aged 55 and older has increased 225%."""""""" (5) One major consequence of this has been the loss of experienced workers primarily through retirement and attrition, and with them, the loss of institutional memory of workplace health and safety. It is predicted that this loss will continue and accelerate, with an estimated 50% of the workforce retiring in the next 4 to 8 years (6). The remaining managers and workers struggle to adapt to a rapidly changing structure, while continuing to provide essential services such as power-grid infrastructure maintenance, electrical power distribution, sewage recovery and treatment, gas distribution, and water purification and distribution. Training is now and will increasingly be essential to provide a safe and healthy workplace. That is why the UWUA has established the Power4America to partner with management to begin the process of ensuring the necessary training resources for these crucial years. Additionally we are reaching out to the community in anticipation of this need and will be conducting outreach health and safety training for prospective workers. This training will help prepare these community members to work safely in these facilities once they are employed. We will focus our recruitment efforts on underserved members of the community surrounding our represented NRC facilities in the first year of the grant. If funded we will extend this training to other facilities nationwide in future grant years'. Members ofthe UWUA occupy a wide variety of positions that compose the utility industry, including electricians, mechanics, steam operators, underground maintenance workers, overhead line workers, nuclear power operators (and other nuclear classifications), transformer personnel, painters, and office personnel. UWUA members need training because their work environment exposes them to accidents and injuries due to exposure to hazardous substances. By the nature of the work, utility workers must move throughout their service areas, including waste disposal or industrial sites to maintain and repair their utility lines. Water, sewage, and electrical transmission and distribution workers must be prepared to respond to emergencies either at their own utility or through MPAs to an emergency in another locale caused by a natural disaster, terrorist event, or accidental catastrophe. Whether onsite, offsite or in an emergency response situation, acute or chronic injury and disease associated with the clean-up of a hazardous substance release or an accidental release of radiation from spent fuel rods or toxic airborne coal ash waste, may chronically impair their health and that ofthe surrounding communities. The Need: It is no secret that our infrastructure is in sorry shape. It is estimated that hundreds of billions of dollars are needed to rebuild our power lines, our water mains, and our gas pipelines. In the meantime, utility workers engage in reactive maintenance: they must deal with thousands of water main breaks, fallen powerlines and gas-line repairs, especially in the winter months. To deal with the massive weather emergencies like hurricanes, tornadoes, and winter storms, utilities often borrow crews from each other in a mutual aid system. It is very difficult and chaotic process but, for the most part, it has kept our electricity, water, and gas available to the public and the industry. It is during these emergency responses that utility workers come in contact with hazardous situations, depending upon the emergency they are responding to. New York Times reporter James Barron provided a small glimpse ofthe magnitude ofthe problem faced by utility workers when he was describing an underground steam-pipe explosion caused by a nearby water main break. Two utility workers and a pedestrian were killed in this explosion and 24 others were injured. """"""""It's a jungle down there. Beneath the 23 square miles of Manhattan are 11 million miles of telephone wires, 19,000 miles of electrical cable, 6,000 miles of water mains, 4,000 miles of gas lines, 100 miles of cable television wires and 105 miles of steam pipes."""""""" (7)

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Utility Workers Union of America
United States
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