Jul 23, 2018

Knackered or Napping?

Bob Crossen writes on the perception of water utility workers

If the faucet is flowing and the toilet is flushing, everything is right in the world. But as soon as those services are interrupted, the level of scrutiny skyrockets. Such seems to be the case for a water utility in Trenton, Ga., where the local newspaper wrote about a Trenton Water Works employee found asleep in a Trenton Water Works truck between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. in early May. 

From the perspective of the newspaper, you would get the impression that employees at the facility are negligent, lazy and incompetent. According to the article, Trenton Water Works has suffered elevated lead levels, shortages in staffing, discolored water and contamination concerns. While the idea behind the article is noble—being a watchdog is a foundational pillar for newspapers—it does not seem to provide any balance in its tone or approach to the topic. 

Perhaps that employee had been at the plant since 4 a.m., and rather than drive home half-asleep, elected for a power nap; maybe he was off the clock while napping, and using a utility vehicle was just a lapse in judgement; or the employee could be salaried and working 50 to 60 hours per week. 

My point is that laying all the woes and troubles of the facility at the feet of an operator who is likely worn out from being overworked is not the most constructive way to frame the problem or work toward a solution for it. Admittedly, I could do more research on the complexities of the situation, because it could be that this is part of a larger systemic issue at the facility and that the operator indeed was asleep on the job.

Public perception of utility workers often is not great. People see four workers standing around a site and wonder why without understanding that each has a duty for safety and regulatory reasons. Educating the general public on the work at water and wastewater facilities and why it is done can improve this perception.

The public has the right and power to scrutinize all the little things and hold the facility to a high standard, and the consequence likely is capital expenditure and increased rates. That should not be used as a chip in the game, but conveying the message is important. Conveying it without causing an uproar? Well, I think we’d all like an answer to that one.

About the author

Bob Crossen is managing editor for WWD. Crossen can be reached at [email protected]