Safety Champion: Derek Spencer

Safety remains vitally important to Derek Spencer as he goes about his job inspecting all of Clermont County’s sewer lines. His work takes him to open manholes, the middle of busy roads, and other potentially dangerous situations. Some holes go as far as 40 feet deep. There can be toxic gases.

“I’m in the field all day, every day,” he said. “I can’t lose sight of the importance of safety.”

Spencer operates two special cameras that ride crawlers of 1.5 and three feet in length through sewer mains and laterals. He records the video on a computer in his mobile office, a large white van. His official title is Collections Specialist in the Water Resources Department.

He uses fall protection and safety equipment such as harnesses and cable winches as he lowers and pulls out of confined spaces. His protection also includes an air quality monitor to detect any gases from sewerage.

“I spend a lot of time checking laterals to see if there is a blockage so we can help homeowners and restore access to our service,” he said. Often, tree roots get into sewer lines, causing backups into basements. Sometimes, ground settles, leading to breaks where dirt backs up a line.

Spencer reviews his findings with his manager James Mattes, Supervisor of the Water Resources Department’s Electro Maintenance and Collections Department, to come up with solutions to the various situations.

“Derek is the eyes of the department,” Mattes said. “He is what leads the department into proper repairing. It’s a very important position.”

State requirements lead to inspection of all sewer lines every 10 years. This allows Water Resources to help protect safety of the environment by detecting any leaking of sewerage.

“If we’ve got a sanitary sewer line there, I’ll make it there,” Spencer said.

Mattes, who has worked for Clermont County since 2004, said his 18-person team takes safety seriously.

“If you’re lackadaisical about it, you’ll get injured,” he said. “Safety starts with the individual. There’s nothing worth you not going home at the end of the day due to injury. We supply an important service, but at the same time we need to take care of ourselves. ”

Mattes said that his team works closely with Clermont County Safety Coordinator Gary Caudill. They review any incidents and make changes to prevent recurrences. This can include additional training or manpower adjustments.

Caudill appreciates the teamwork with Mattes’ department, which keeps priorities such as safety and customer service in the forefront at all times. Caudill noted that Spencer doesn’t lose track of safety duties while going about his essential job.

“We’re lucky to have a good team, supplied with PPE and provided with training,” Mattes said. “Gary does a good job of listening to the guys. If there is an issue that needs to be addressed, we’ll address it.”