203171 Operating Water: Race, Class and Occupational Exposures at a Municipal Water Treatment Plant

Monday, November 9, 2009: 10:30 AM

Fernando Ona, PhD, MPH , Department of Applied Health Science, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
Zobeida Bonilla, PhD, MPH , Department of Applied Health Science, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
Robert M. Goodman, PhD , Indiana University, School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, Bloomington, IN
Background: Water treatment plant operators treat water so that it is safe to drink. Water treatment workers in the Global South may experience unreported occupational diseases more often due to lack of worker health and safety education or enforcement capacity.

Purposes: To 1) describe occupational health and safety exposures among water treatment plant operators, 2) identify the types and contexts of exposures.

Methods: A descriptive observational study was conducted of water treatment operators in the Caribbean to examine worker exposures to chemical, physical, ergonomic and psychosocial factors. Participants were found through local business, non-governmental organizations and tourism officials.

Results: Hazards and risks faced by workers in these environments may be greater than the general population due to the nature of exposures related to water treatment operations and lack of health and safety education. Often it is assumed that the benefits of employment will outweigh any detrimental health effects of on-the-job factors and/or that the workers themselves can make the appropriate judgments. These assumptions are situated in complex cultural structures of race and class. Observations accurately reflected workers' situations; namely, resources for occupational health and safety do not exist and often workers are constricted in their ability to advocate for better working conditions due to political, cultural and environmental systems.

Conclusion: Efforts are needed to increase access to health and safety resources for water treatment operators. It is important to increase the competency and capacity of water treatment operators and understand their situation in the context of municipal politics and culture.

Learning Objectives:
1. Explain that water treatment operators in the Global South experience a range of occupational safety and health hazards, including chemical exposures and physical hazards. 2. Describe context of environmental exposures that water treatment operators experience. 3. Identify major risk factors for occupational hazards and exposures in a municipal water treatment environment.

Keywords: Occupational Exposure, Social Justice

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have engaged in participant observation and descriptive research associated with this on-going global health project in collaboration with Indiana University and institutions and community-based organizations located in the Caribbean. I have a MPH and a PhD in public health and the sociomedical sciences.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.