Friday, March 28, 2014

Beep! Beep! Backing Accidents in Public Works

Public Works is a big user of motor vehicles and equipment including: pick-up trucks, dump trucks, graders, loaders, tractors, etc. For the most part, thousands of miles are traveled safely, without incident. However, there are around 1800 vehicle-related LMCIT claims each year that account for about $4.8 million paid in damages each year.  Here is a handy tool for you to download, print and place in vehicles for those unfortunate occasions when a vehicle accident occurs.   Cab Card for Vehicle Accidents
According to the National Safety Council, around 25% of all vehicle accidents are attributed to backing and poor backing techniques. Below are short and long term techniques that can reduce these numbers:

 Short Term Techniques
  • Park defensively, use spots that are easy to exit
  • Don’t park where others may back into you
  • Get to know blind spots and mirror limitations in your vehicles
  • Back into parking spots if possible
  • Complete a vehicle walk around before backing
  • Use a spotter, train employees on common hand signals

 Long Term Techniques
  • Purchase vehicles with back-up cameras and/or retrofit existing vehicles with cameras
  • Conduct backing training using equipment employees are anticipated to drive
  • Install vehicle back-up alarms on vehicles that back frequently

Physical Damage
On average, LMCIT receives 1,100 claims for vehicle physical damage. Incurred losses were approximately $2.7 million per year during 2009-12, or about $2,600 per claim.

Liability Damage
On average, LMCIT receives 670 auto liability claims each year. From 2009-12 costs averaged $2.1 million per year, or about $3,400 per claim

by Joe Ingebrand

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Frozen water lines and sewer lines don't mix!

Pipe Thawing Cross Connection/Contamination
by Paul Gladen

The issue of frozen pipes is at an all-time high around the state this year.
Cities are facing several issues of how to get the lines cleared and what to tell citizens on how to go about enlisting services to clear the lines. The two methods used are electrically heating the lines using welding equipment or specific line thawing equipment designed to heat the lines electrically and the second is using a hot water pulse machine to melt the ice. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. With the electric there is the possibility of stray electricity damaging the homes electrical system and or appliances or a cause of fire in the home being worked on or neighboring homes near the property. With the hot water machines there is a potential for cross connection contamination of the domestic water system.  The cross connection contamination concern was brought up by the Owatonna Public Utilities in response to our last blog on thawing water pipes. After talking with Owatonna Public Utilities and others on the issue it was felt that other cities could benefit from some guidance and direction on the cross connection contamination hazards and best practices.  

The hazards of contamination of drinking water during the thawing process is a result of the process involved in using the equipment. The jetting and hot water pulse equipment introduces a feed line directly into the water pipe and uses pressurized hot water to cut through and melt the ice. These machines have a hot water tank that recirculates the hot water from a heating tank on the machine pumping it through the feed tube to the ice blockage. The equipment needs to be properly taken care of and good housekeeping practices need to be followed by the operators (contractors or the city/utility) of the equipment in order to reduce the potential for contamination. There is a potential for these machines to have been used to clear sewer and drain lines which can introduce bacteria in to the domestic water supply. It would be a good practice for plumbing operators to have dedicated equipment for domestic water work and not use it for any other purpose.

Owatonna Public Utilities has put together a notice Owatonna Public Utilities sample notice to contractors that the city plans on distributing to the contractors in the area as well as to the citizens who have frozen lines. The notice outlines the best practices which should be followed by the plumbing contractors, and city utilities as well, to reduce the chance of contamination. These steps  are considered best practices for reducing contamination during the hot water thawing method. Following these recommendations will not totally eliminate the possibility of contamination but are felt to be good practice and a positive step in significantly reducing it.

Thank you to the people at the Owatonna Public Utilities Department for their contribution to this issue. A copy of the Owatonna notice is accessible in an attachment as an example for others use in the development their own notice.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sanitary sewers and frozen water lines...What goes around comes around.

From Waterloo to Kalamazoo and back communities across several states continue to battle the issue of frozen water lines.  the loss control department at LMCIT is using this blogspot to disseminate information as it develops or becomes available.  A recent article in The Litchfield Independent Review, City workers battling frozen pipes caught my attention.

I called Litchfield City Administrator Dave Cziok to follow up on the article that suggested residents try running a tub of hot water through the pipes once a day or running the hot water for about 5 minutes a day.

According to Dave, the city came to this idea organically.  When frozen water lines first started to be an issue he called a meeting and decided to approach this issue from both the sewer and water side, vs. only the water side.  Here's what helped the city come to that decision:
  • The financial burden of continuously running water
  • The extra processing on the wastewater treatment plant side
  • The city heard from people that ran water in a pencil thin stream (as advised by plumbers and other sources) and now the residents have a sewer back-up issue
  • The city didn't want to create liability for themselves on the sewer back-up side due to the advice the city gave to continuously run the cold water

Running the hot water has not worked in all situations and in fact the city is finding a variety of scenarios as to what is causing the freeze-ups/back-ups.  The city is dispatching public works employees to assess specific situations and they in turn make a determination of what the best approach would be to thaw the lines.  Dave Cziok  is willing to answer calls from other cities if staff would like to discuss more detail with him.

 LMCIT's litigation attorney, Jack Hennen had these comments:

"I was worried that the cold water trickle method to prevent water lines from freezing would cause ice accumulation in shallow sanitary sewer service lines.  With a slow trickle of very cold water an icicle can form inside the sanitary sewer service line."

"When a lot of hot water is put down the line it heats up and cleans out the line and then the vented line dries out until the next discharge--this can deter ice formation in the sewer service lateral.  Public Works staffs' familiarity with the area, the depth of the basement (full basement or half basement with walkout), and "as builts" showing the depth of both the sanitary sewer line and the water lines should allow City Employees to give better guidance to homeowners on a case by case basis."

"I do think that such advice should always be characterized in terms of a "tip" or suggestion--i.e.'you might like to try--but we cannot make any kind of guarantee that this will work.'  Suggestions are only suggestions--ultimately the homeowners should rely on their own good judgement or on what a plumber they hire tells them."

by Cheryl Brennan