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Michael Dean: A Commitment to Safety and the Environment

Monday, July 30, 2018  
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"In all my years of doing this, I have not met one person who is fond of fire ants," says Micahel Dean, Utility Inspector for Durham County. Along with encountering snakes, dodging people who are texting and driving, and using improper equipment, stepping on a hill of fire ants is one  of the many occupational hazards he documents while touring the new construction sites connected to the County system.

 

Safety has dramatically increased since Dean assumed the position in 1994, with measures such as masks to protect workers from particulate matter caused by digging and by sawing PVC or ductile iron pipe. Clothing has also improved, with reflective vests now a standard on roadways."Safety has probably improved by 100%," Dean confirms, adding that this is a critical aspect of work on construction sites. "Job number one when you go to work is to work safe so you can go home at the end of every day."


Durham currently has 70 water and sewer projects at various stages of construction, several of which involve laying large diameter pipe to extend water infrastructure to new subdivisions. "Once they receive an approved set of plans, we set up a preconstruction meeting to go over all the details and specifications," he explains."We adhere to what was approved by both the engineer at Durham County and the design engineer."


The County also conducts rigorous testing, from air testing on PVC pipes to pulling a nine-prong mandrel through the pipe to ensure there is no deflection. One of the County’s specifications is to have every pipe videoed and cleaned before acceptance. “We find a lot of defects that way,” notes Dean. “We have to go in and make the necessary repairs. We don’t allow band-aids on new construction.” No repair clamps are allowed from one manhole to another on sanitary sewers. Defects have to be replaced with new pipe. One challenge has been the lack of skilled professionals to do the work, as human resources are stretched thin due to high level of construction activity in the I-40 corridor, from the mountain to the coast. “There are not enough people to do the work,” confirms Dean, adding that the large amount of construction work has meant that he is very busy as well.

 

Along with safety inspections, he also conducts environmental investigations, taking pictures and notes of any violations at the construction sites. These range from reporting illegal dumping into sanitary sewers to ensuring contractors pick up after themselves before they leave the area. “I enjoy reminding them too,” he laughs.  Dean is passionate about environmental protection, having grown up in a family that spent plenty of time outdoors. “My dad was one of 12 boys,” he notes. “We learned to hunt and fish as soon as we were able to walk.”

 

Fortunately, Dean’s work allows him plenty of time to enjoy nature. He often sees wildlife during his travels from  one construction site to another and always enjoys coming across native North Carolina ferns and dogwoods. Occasionally, he has found arrowheads or fossils while inspecting an excavation on a jobsite. Recently, he even had a chance to visit two early 18th century log cabins in an area about to be developed into a new subdivision. It’s all a part of the variety that is such an important component of his job.
Along with his official title, Dean wears several other hats, including oversight of the NC 811 Locate Crew and entering all their paperwork into the state system. “Most of the contractors are pretty concerned about avoiding the water mains and sewer lines when excavating,” he notes. 


Because of his many years of experience in safety and environmental protection, Dean also acts as a resource for the NC AWWA-WEA. Although he doesn’t have an official position on a sub-committee, he is often tapped for his expertise. “My background in this industry is highly valued because most people who were involved in this have either retired or passed away," he explains. 

 

As for Dean, he is in no hurry to retire.  "Durham County is a great place to work," he says. "I have a great management staff who oversees operations. If we need something, they listen and get it for us, whether it's vehicles or tools or safety equipment."  Nonetheless, he wouldn't mind a little more time to indulge his passion  in deep sea fishing. Living in Durham, he is only three and half hours from his boat, docked in Morehead City. Whether it's oysters, shrimp, tuna, or mahi mahi, the coast of North Carolina has some of the best seafood in the country “ just another reason why protecting the water and the environment is a top priority for Michael Dean!

 


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