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Report: Cherry Hill DPW site failed to provide safe working conditions for employees amid high temperatures

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Posted at 1:29 PM, Jul 10, 2024

BALTIMORE — The Office of the Inspector General's (OIG) latest report details the Department of Public Work's Cherry Hill site's lack of employee safety as temperatures rise in Baltimore.

According to the report, employees filed a complaint to the Inspector General's Office on June 5, alleging that DPW did not provide water, ice, and fans to employees, specifically those working on routes.

The ice machines were described as inoperable for over one year, prompting employees to buy a bag of ice every day.

During a visit by the OIG on June 6, the machine was confirmed inoperable. A DPW employee added that the machine had not been working since summer 2023.

It also found that the employee locker room did not have air conditioning or fans, matching the complaints filed by the employees.

On June 14, the OIG paid a visit to the recycling route with employees from the Cherry Hill yard.

There, they were told by workers that they had not been provided any water, ice, or Gatorade at the start of their shift. The temperature that day was 80 degrees, with a high of 90 degrees for later in the day.

Workers emphasized that the trash truck did not have air conditioning and no lights on the dashboard due to "mechanical errors."

After conducting the visits, the OIG referred the findings to DPW's management on June 26.

Today, the OIG performed an emergency follow-up visit at the Cherry Hill site.

During the visit, officials noted "critical conditions that require immediate attention and remedy due to the extreme heat warnings that have been issued in the region."

To note, during these shifts, Baltimore was in a Code Red alert, meaning temperatures were reaching dangerously high levels. The alert was put in place July 5 and will be carried through Thursday, July 11.

The report adds that the Cherry Hill site broke OSHA regulation 1915.88(b)(2), which states "the employer shall provide potable drinking water in amounts that are adequate to meet the health and personal needs of each employee."

The full report can be read here:

DPW released a statement following the release of the report:

The Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW) acknowledges and takes full responsibility for the health and safety of our dedicated staff. We recognize the challenging conditions our employees face while performing their essential duties, and we are committed to taking every possible measure to protect them. Each year, we take proactive steps, particularly in the Bureau of Solid Waste, to prepare for summer temperatures. Our efforts include:

  1. Equipment: We supply our employees with necessary protective gear, including lightweight, breathable clothing.
  2. Education and Training: We provide comprehensive training to educate employees and their supervisors about the risks of heat-related illnesses and the importance of taking preventive measures, per the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
  3. Resources to Keep Cool: We ensure all work sites are equipped with ample supplies of water, shaded rest areas, and cooling stations.
At the Reedbird Sanitation Yard, we took corrective actions before the start of the summer season, recognizing the need for facility repairs. Noting issues with the onsite ice machine, we worked with approved vendors to replace vital parts and purchased an additional ice machine. Today, one is fully operational, and another ice machine is expected this week.

To ensure employees had access to cool water and ice, supervisors made multiple trips delivering water onsite. Additionally, we secured 20 cases of water (stocked in preparation for the season) and 5,000 bottles of Gatorade. While we await back-ordered parts for the onsite air conditioner, portable air conditioners are installed and are working properly. 

Ultimately, the Reedbird Sanitation Yard requires facility upgrades. We are currently in the design phase for these improvements. During construction, we plan to address and complete repairs to the air conditioning system, floors, lockers, and other necessary updates to ensure a better working environment for our employees.