Handling Human Waste or Sewage
Workers who handle human waste or sewage may be at increased risk of becoming ill from waterborne diseases. To reduce this risk and protect against illness, such as diarrhea, use standard practices associated with wastewater treatment plant operations. These standard practices can include engineering and administrative controls, hygiene precautions, specific safe work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) normally required when handling untreated wastewater.
Basic Hygiene Practices for Workers
- Wash hands with soap and water immediately after handling human waste or sewage.
- After handling human waste or sewage, wash your hands with soap and water before eating or drinking.
- After handling human waste or sewage, wash your hands with soap and water before and after using the toilet.
- Avoid touching face, mouth, eyes, nose, or open sores and cuts while handling human waste or sewage.
- Before eating, remove soiled work clothes and eat in designated areas away from human waste and sewage-handling activities.
- Do not smoke or chew tobacco or gum while handling human waste or sewage.
- Keep open sores, cuts, and wounds covered with clean, dry bandages.
- Remove rubber boots and work clothes before leaving worksite.
- Change into clean work clothing on a daily basis.
- Wash contaminated work clothing after use.
If human waste or sewage comes into contact with your eyes, gently flush them with safe water.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Workers handling human waste or sewage should have proper PPE, training on how to use it, and facilities for handwashing. Workers should wash hands with soap and water immediately after removing PPE. The PPE requirements may vary based on assessment of the facility and specific job duties of workers handling human waste or sewage, but they generally include the following:
- Goggles to protect eyes from splashes of human waste or sewage.
- Protective face mask or splash-proof face shield to protect nose and mouth from splashes of human waste or sewage.
- Liquid-repellent coveralls to keep human waste or sewage off clothing.
- Waterproof gloves to prevent exposure to human waste or sewage.
- Rubber boots to prevent exposure to human waste or sewage.
Training for Workers
All workers who handle human waste or sewage should receive training on disease prevention. The training should include information on basic hygiene practices; use and disposal of PPE; and proper handling of human waste or sewage. Workers must also be urged to promptly seek medical attention if displaying any signs or symptoms of diarrhea, such as vomiting, stomach cramps, and watery diarrhea.
Vaccination Recommendations for Workers
Vaccination recommendations for workers exposed to sewage or human waste should be developed in consultation with local health authorities. Tetanus vaccinations should be up to date, with consideration also given to the need for vaccinations for polio, typhoid fever, Hepatitis A, and Hepatitis B.
These recommendations are based on best practices and procedures. Worker health and safety risks are likely to vary among specific locations and job tasks. A trained health and safety professional should be consulted to conduct a risk assessment and create site-specific worker health and safety plans.
- CDC. Potential Sanitation Solutions During an Emergency Response
- CDC. Response Worker Health and Safety
- CDC. Interim Health Recommendations for Workers who Handle Human Remains After a Disaster
- CDC. Water Contamination from Animal Feeding Operations
- EPA. Environmental Regulations and Technology Control of Pathogens and Vector Attraction in Sewage Sludge pdf icon[8.24 – MB]external icon
- CDC. Guidance for Controlling Potential Risks To Workers Exposed to Class B Biosolids pdf icon[107 KB]