Home | BaltimoreBrew.com
by Mark Reutter2:24 pmJul 10, 20240

BREAKING: In surprise visit, Baltimore inspector general finds sanitation workers exposed to extreme heat, no A/C

“Conditions this morning were actually worse than the first time we were there,” says Isabel Mercedes Cumming, responding to employee complaints of no air conditioning and other health risks at DPW’s Cherry Hill yard

Above: Thermostat at the DPW Cherry Hill “cooling” trailer showed temperatures of 83° and 85° before 7 a.m. this morning. (OIG Baltimore)

Conducting a surprise visit to the Cherry Hill Solid Waste Yard this morning, Baltimore Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming found employees exposed to hazardous working conditions, including no functioning air conditioning, broken thermostats, inoperable water fountains and no ice.

Cumming said about eight crews had already left the facility without access to cold water, ice or Gatorade to start their shift when she arrived.

The thermostat in a makeshift “cooling” trailer read 83°F and then 85°F during her hour-long inspection that ended at 7 a.m.

“People under our employment should not be suffering in this way, especially with a heat advisory now in effect,” Cumming said.

“What made me feel really bad was walking into City Hall later and thinking, ‘wow, it’s really nice and cool in here,’” she told The Brew.

In an Emergency Follow-up Alert sent to Mayor Brandon Scott, Public Works Director Khalil Zaied and members of the City Council, Cumming said the conditions faced by workers who pick up Baltimore’s trash likely run afoul of federal OSHA rules and definitely violate the city’s contract with AFSCME Local 44, which represents the employees.

“They require immediate attention and remedy due to the extreme heat warnings that have been issued for the region,” she warned.

From Inspector General's report, photos showing conditions at Baltimore DPW's Cherry Hill facility. (OIG Baltimore)

Today’s IG report has photos of conditions at DPW’s Cherry Hill facility. Here are a broken ice machine, two nonworking water fountains, and replacement parts that hadn’t been installed (OIG Baltimore)

Getting Worse

Her surprise inspection was a follow-up to a June 20 visit after her office received multiple complaints that the yard’s ice machines had not worked in over a year and employees had to purchase water bottles and bags of ice to stay hydrated.

“Conditions this morning were actually worse than the first time we were there,” she said.

In one room, she and her staff found three portable air conditioners that replaced a central air conditioner that had stopped working about three weeks ago.

“One unit was sending out pure heat. Another wasn’t plugged in because they said if they plugged it in, it would blow all the circuits. And the third was trying to work, but it was still over 80° at 6:30 in the morning.”

“One unit was sending out pure heat. Another wasn’t plugged in. And the third was trying to work, but it was still over 80°”  – Isabel Cumming.

In the employee locker room, “they had on an industrial fan that was the slowest fan I’ve ever seen as well as a portable air conditioner where, again, the air was not cool.”

Going over to the sink used by employees, “I turned the cold water on, and it was HOT.”

Bottled water was supposed to be delivered to employees today, but it hadn’t come when Cumming was present.

Water bottles from Tuesday were floating in a garbage can partly filled with slushy water.

“There was no plastic liner in the can, and you wouldn’t want to use water bottles stuck for a day in a trash can. So for crews going out this morning, there was no real chance to get a drink.”

What makes these conditions worse, Cumming said, is that most of the front loaders used by DPW sanitation and recycling crews aren’t equipped with air conditioning.

Trash can at DPW facility with melted ice and warm water bottles. (OIG Baltimore)

Isabel Mercedes Cumming next to a garbage can with melted ice and warm water bottles. (OIG Baltimore)

Moisture Wear T-shirts on Order

Cumming’s office sent an emergency referral to the Department of Public Works on June 20, asking for a quick response to the problems outlined.

On June 26, Zaied responded, saying that “DPW shall implement strict operational scrutiny to make changes and improvements to provide an optimal work environment for our employees.”

Saying that “we recognize the importance of hydration especially during high temperatures” and “access to safe and clean drinking water,” Zaied said the agency had purchased 4,800 bottles of Gatorade and were handing out bottles to staff.

In addition, 744 “Class 3 High-Vis Moisture Wear T-shirts” were ordered to replace uniforms on extreme heat days. “This is for all sites of DPW Solid Waste Bureau,” he said.

In addition, “all ice machines will be put on a regular maintenance schedule to minimize breakdowns,” and AC parts have been purchased for units in the cooling trailer.

Zaied warned, however, that the unit in the locker room is outdated with parts difficult to find. “We will install a temporary A/C unit if the old unit cannot be repaired.”

In sum, the DPW chief said he hoped that air conditioning and safe water would be partly or fully available at Cherry Hill today, July 10.

“That’s why we conducted the inspection today, on the 10th working day of DPW’s response to our concerns,” Cumming told The Brew.

Saying that the health and safety of about 80 workers was at risk, she called on the Scott administration to “explore alternatives, including a possible alternate work site” to deal with the crisis.

Most Popular