Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

Baltimore Inspector General: Conditions at Public Works Facility Unsafe

By meerna Jul11,2024
Baltimore Inspector General: Conditions at Public Works Facility Unsafe

Amid record high temperatures in Baltimore, a report from the city’s Office of Inspector General found that workers at the city’s South Baltimore Public Works facility are working in unsafe conditions.

The OIG conducted an emergency visit to the Department of Public Works’ Cherry Hill facility early Wednesday morning and released a report hours later detailing broken air conditioning, inoperable water fountains and inoperable ice machines. The National Weather Service said in a heat warning that conditions were “dangerously hot,” with heat index values ​​expected to reach as high as 112 degrees.

The report warned that the conditions could violate federal safe-workplace laws, specifically those requiring employers to provide workers with drinking water. It also said the conditions could violate the city’s agreement with the union representing Baltimore city workers. The city’s memorandum of understanding with AFSCME 44 states that workers must have a “safe and healthful workplace.”

“OIG requests that prompt and immediate action be taken to prevent further risk and to consider alternatives, including a possible alternative work location,” the report reads.

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DPW workers filed a complaint with the OIG on June 5, alleging that the Cherry Hill plant did not have adequate access to water, ice and fans. Over the next two weeks, OIG officials visited the plant and the recycling route where plant workers worked. The ice machine in the plant’s break room had been broken for more than a year, the report said, and workers said they had not received water or ice before their shifts in the summer heat.

After Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming sent a letter urging DPW to take action on June 20, Khalil Zaied, the department’s chief, responded with a list of changes that could be made to keep DPW employees cool. They included better maintenance of ice machines and repairing air conditioners in a trailer in the yard to use it as a cooling station.

The industrial fan was used at the city’s South Baltimore Public Works plant. The city’s inspector general’s office issued a report on unsafe heat levels at the plant on July 10, 2024. (Baltimore City Office of Inspector General)

“DPW is committed to ensuring the well-being of employees at all of our facilities in the Baltimore metropolitan area,” Zaied wrote in the June 26 letter.

But the inspector general found a large bucket with several plastic hot water bottles and a box full of ice machine parts Wednesday morning that had not been installed. Inspectors did not find a single working water fountain, the report said. The employee locker room was missing a thermostat screen, and the HVAC system was not working. The room was “hot, humid, and had no cool airflow.”

And the air conditioning in the trailer that was supposed to be a cooling station was broken. Instead, there were three temporary AC units — but only one was plugged in, to prevent overloading the trailer’s electrical system.

The only temporary air conditioner was set at 65 degrees, the report said, but the thermostat showed the room was 85 degrees. The OIG visit occurred between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Wednesday, when temperatures at Thurgood Marshall International Airport in Baltimore-Washington ranged from 80 to 83 degrees, according to recorded observations by the National Weather Service.

By meerna

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