Ensuring safe operations of water and wastewater facilities is of paramount importance to treatment plant operators. The rigorous safety protocols that must be adhered to by each employee translates into better-run, more efficient and environmentally sound facilities. Public-private partnerships are one solution for safety improvement and performance.
Aside from the technical know-how to apply up-to-date technology and the management tools for ensuring cost-effective regulatory compliance of the facilities they operate, private partners bring a detailed understanding of current and proposed safety regulations. With hands-on experience in safety training and an in-depth knowledge of the options available for implementing standards of safety, private partners also maintain good working relationships with the agencies that enforce the regulations.
However, public officials must recognize there are real limits to what a private partner can accomplish. Many facilities have never had a detailed safety program. Although the private partner's operating and environmental expertise may help mitigate environmental problems, the public partner needs to be willing to make the commitment to solve issues related to or stemming from lacking or nonexistent safety standards.
As with any public-private partnership, the benchmarks for success are measured in cost savings, improved process control programs, demonstrated environmental compliance and quantifiable improvements in safety. Such measurements include reductions in lost-time accidents, decreased citations and violations from regulatory agencies and related cost savings.
“Most small- to mid-sized municipalities just can’t match the resources of a [private company],” said one Pennsylvania municipal manager. “Their training programs—particularly safety training—are beyond what we as a small municipality can provide.”
Such training has earned two wastewater facilities in Pennsylvania annual awards for safety in the past year.
Wastewater facilities in Downingtown and Lititz have been honored by the Eastern Pennsylvania Water Pollution Control Operators Association (EPWPCOA) and Pennsylvania Water Environment Association (PWEA), respectively.
The 7.5-million-gal-per-day (mgd) Downingtown Regional Water Pollution Control Center (DRWPCC) was awarded Class II (nine or more employees) Facility Safety awards by both organizations. The DRWPCC previously received this award in 2002 and 2003 from EPWPCOA and PWEA, respectively. In 2004, the facility received the George W. Burke, Jr. Facility Safety Award from the Water Environment Federation.
The 3.85-mgd two-stage activated sludge Lititz Wastewater Treatment Plant  has been selected to receive Class I (eight or less employees) Facility Safety awards from both the EPWPCOA and PWEA. The Lititz facility was previously awarded the Plant Operation and Maintenance (O&M) Excellence Award from EPWPCOA in 2004. In 1990 and 2005, the facility received the EPA Region III O&M Excellence award.
Both facilities are engaged in public-private partnerships with Severn Trent Services  .
The Downingtown and Lititz partnerships are not the only Pennsylvania facilities to have been recognized for their efforts. In 2002, EPWPCOA awarded the 0.75-mgd Boyertown wastewater facility with its Plant Safety Award; in 2003, PWEA recognized Boyertown with its Facility Safety Award.
Jeffrey Doutrich, Severn Trent Services’ regional manager, stated: “Safety is becoming more and more of an issue in the water industry. To be successful, a top-down commitment is required from all individuals in an organization. These awards are constant reassurance that the employees of Downingtown and Lititz place a premium on safety.”