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Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Baltimore DPW workers have no access to water or air conditioning during dangerous heat warning

By meerna Jul11,2024
Baltimore DPW workers have no access to water or air conditioning during dangerous heat warning

During a surprise visit to the Baltimore Department of Public Works (DPW) shipyard in Cherry Hill on Wednesday morning, the inspector general discovered inadequate water supplies, inoperable ice machines and broken air conditioners in employee-occupied spaces.

It comes on a day when Baltimore is expected to become one of the hottest cities in the country, with the heat index expected to soar above 100 degrees.

The visit was part of an ad hoc follow-up to observations conducted earlier this summer in which Baltimore City Inspector General Isabel Cummings observed similar patterns.

The visits and the resulting report, also released Wednesday, came after the inspector’s office received information that Cherry Hill DPW workers were not provided with “adequate amounts of ice, water and fans.”

The Inspector General is calling on the city to immediately resolve the problem.

“Without adequate and safe working conditions, the City is not only potentially in violation of OSHA regulations, but the health and safety of DPW employees are now at risk. OIG requests that prompt and immediate action be taken to prevent further risk and explore alternatives, including a possible alternative work location,” Cummings wrote in her report.

Cummings also warned that the conditions could violate a memorandum of understanding between the city and AFSCME 44, the union representing many city employees. That memorandum requires that workers have a “safe and healthy workplace.”

When Cummings arrived at the site Wednesday, she noticed there were no ice or water bottles delivered to the site for early morning workers. Instead, she found an empty trash can filled with melted ice and a few water bottles left over from the previous day. She also noticed two broken ice machines, which a worker at the site said have been broken since the summer of 2023.

The Inspector General did not notice any operating drinking water dispenser in the building.

Occupational health and safety standards require employers to provide employees with free drinking water in the workplace.

Cummings noticed a lack of air conditioning throughout the facility.

In the employee locker room, the thermostat screen was broken, making it impossible to get an accurate temperature reading, although Cummings described the room in her report as “hot, humid, and with no cool airflow.” The HVAC system was also broken; the door to the employee locker room was blocked, but a temporary air conditioning unit installed to provide cool air was not blowing any air, according to the report.

According to Cummings, DPW instructed workers to use the main trailer on site as a cooling center, but learned Wednesday morning that that air conditioning unit had also broken down. That trailer was being cooled by two temporary AC units at once — anything more would have caused a power outage.

Despite the temporary air conditioners being set to 65 degrees, the actual temperatures recorded by the trailer’s thermostat were between 83 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Cummings noted that those temperatures were recorded between 6 and 7 a.m., well before the worst of the day’s heat was expected to arrive.

“Without adequate and safe working conditions, the City is not only potentially in violation of OSHA regulations, but the health and safety of DPW employees are now at risk. OIG requests that prompt and immediate action be taken to prevent further risk and explore alternatives, including a possible alternative work location,” Cummings wrote in her report.

Wednesday’s visit revealed problems that are part of a pattern.

Earlier this summer, the inspector general’s office visited a recycling route in Cherry Hill and learned that workers were not given water or Gatorade before their shifts. The garbage truck had no air conditioning and no dashboard lights that would indicate mechanical problems.

On June 26, Acting DPW Director Khalil Zaied wrote a letter to the OIG detailing how they were addressing the problem, including handing out Gatorade, sending trucks for maintenance and trying to fix the air conditioning in the locker room. Zaied also said crews would be required to wear 744 Class 3 High-Vis Moisture Wear shirts instead of uniforms on days of extreme heat.

OSHA does not have temperature standards to protect workers working in extreme temperatures, but Maryland is enacting its own temperature standards to be released later this year.

By meerna

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