News Feature | January 10, 2019

For Second Time In Three Years, A Baltimore Wastewater Worker Is Killed In A Trench

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

In a tragedy that highlights the inherent danger faced by wastewater treatment professionals on a regular basis, a worker employed by Baltimore’s Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant recently suffered a fatal accident while in a construction trench.

The worker, Transito Rodriguez Cruz, was struck by the bucket of an excavator while working on a construction project at the plant.

“He was taken to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead,” The Baltimore Sun reported. “The incident is under investigation by both the Baltimore Environmental Police and Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”

Local news outlet Fox Baltimore added some more details on the accident.

“The worker was struck in a 20-foot-deep trench at the Back River Treatment Plant in Dundalk,” per Fox. “The fire department said the worker ‘was struck by a piece of equipment’ at about 12:09 p.m. Officials did a confined-space rescue to free the worker.”

As an additional highlight of the hazards of pipeline maintenance, reports surfaced that a worker hired by the city to do sewer line repairs had also died in a trench accident three years ago.

“The company was completing ‘urgent’ repairs to a drainage line running from a city pool in Northeast Baltimore when the trench collapsed, killing [Kyle] Hancock,” according to The Baltimore Sun. “A city recreation official requested that workers clear the line at the Clifton Park Pool in advance of the pool’s planned opening later that month. Warder was assigned to the job as part of the open contracts the company had with the city to maintain sewer lines and heating and chilled water systems.”

An investigation into the death of Hancock revealed poor safety management as a root cause. A protective barrier was not in place when rescue crews arrived, WBAL-TV reported.

The construction company “committed ‘willful’ and ‘serious’ violations that contributed to the death of a 20-year-old contractor working to clear a clogged water line from a Baltimore city pool, a state investigation has found,” according to The Sun. “The Maryland Occupational Safety and Health agency said it has proposed that R.F. Warder Inc. pay $275,000 in penalties for the June 5 trench collapse.”

To read more about issues facing workers at wastewater treatment plants, visit Water Online’s Labor Solutions Center.