Injuries and Illness

Water Safety: Prevent Workplace Drownings

Although drowning is primarily an off-the-job hazard, workers are sometimes at risk on the job as well. Here are some common hazards employers should be aware of in order to prevent drownings.

One thing employers may not realize is that workers who are not supposed to be in the water at all could be at risk. Here are some drowning hazards you might not have considered.

Work Over Water

On January 28, 2014, construction workers Terry Watson and Jose Dario Suarez were working from a hydraulic lift that was located on a modular barge in the Brazos River. Their employer was building a pedestrian bridge linking the Baylor University campus to a new stadium on the other side of the river. The workers were tethered to the lift to protect them against falls—but when the lift they were on rolled off the barge, into the river, their fall protection equipment became a liability. Watson was trapped underwater for 2 minutes before he was able to free himself and swim to the surface. The less-fortunate Suarez was killed.


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Any time workers are over water, there’s a chance they could end up in the water. Make sure that you’re prepared for a water rescue if worse comes to worst.

Work Alongside Water

On August 26, 2013, a lawn maintenance worker was using a lawn tractor to mow a golf course in Plano, Texas, when the tractor rolled into a pond on the course, trapping the worker and drowning him. On February 26, 2015, another worker in Mabton, Washington, was killed when the front-end loader he was driving rolled sideways into a wastewater pond and trapped him.

Riding lawnmowers and other heavy mobile equipment are a known rollover hazard. When they are used alongside ponds, canals, ditches, or other small bodies of water, where the ground can be soft and the edge hidden by grass, they can rollover and trap workers even in shallow waters. Be aware of the combined hazard of equipment rollover and water entrapment.


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Sudden Engulfment

On July 30, 2014, a construction worker in Chicago was working on a sewer relining project when the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the area. Within minutes, the sewer had filled with floodwater and washed the worker to his death.

Whenever workers are in an area that could suddenly fill with water, sewage, or some other fluid, they are at risk of drowning. Flash floods, workers in another area opening the wrong valve, or a break in the line upstream are all potential culprits. If your workers could be washed away, identify the hazard points and take precautions to protect them.

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