As Baltimore faces record-breaking heat, a report from the Baltimore Office of the Inspector General found that employees at a city public works facility in South Baltimore are working in unsafe conditions.

The OIG made an emergency visit to the Department of Public Works’ Cherry Hill facility early Wednesday morning and released a report hours later detailing broken air conditioning, inoperable water fountains and nonfunctional ice machines. The National Weather Service said in an excessive heat warning that conditions were “dangerously hot” with heat index values as high as 112 degrees expected.

The report warned that the conditions could violate federal laws around safe work conditions, specifically one that requires employers to provide potable drinking water to workers. It also said the conditions may break the city’s agreement with the labor union that represents Baltimore municipal employees. The city’s memorandum of understanding with AFSCME 44 states that employees must have a “safe and healthful workplace.”

“The OIG requests for swift and immediate action to be taken to prevent further risk and explore alternatives, including a possible alternate work site,” the report said.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

DPW employees filed a complaint with the OIG on June 5, alleging that the Cherry Hill facility lacks adequate access to water, ice and fans. Over the next two weeks, OIG officials visited both the facility and a recycling route that employees from the facility worked. An ice machine in in the facility break room had been broken for over a year, the report said, and employees said they hadn’t been provided water or ice before their shift in the summer heat.

After Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming sent a letter urging DPW to take action on June 20, Khalil Zaied, the department’s chief, responded with a list of changes that could be made to ensure that DPW workers can keep cool. These included better maintenance for the ice machines and repairing the air conditioning units in a trailer at the yard to use it as a cooling station.

An industrial fan was put to use at a city public works facility in South Baltimore. The city’s Office of Inspector General issued a report about dangerous heat levels at the facility on July 10, 2024. (Baltimore City Office of Inspector General)

“DPW is committed to ensuring the well-being of employees in all our facilities throughout the Baltimore Metropolitan area,” Zaied wrote in a June 26 letter.

But the inspector general found Wednesday morning a large bucket with a few warm plastic water bottles and box full of ice machine parts that hadn’t been installed. Inspectors did not encounter a single working water fountain, the report said. In the employee locker room, the screen of the thermostat was missing and the HVAC system wasn’t working. The room was “hot, humid and no cool airflow was present.”

And in the trailer that was promised to be a cooling station, the AC was broken. Instead, there were three temporary AC units — but only one was plugged in to prevent overloading the trailer’s electrical system.

The lone temporary AC unit was set to 65 degrees, the report said, but the thermostat showed that the room was 85 degrees. The OIG’s visit took place between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Wednesday, when temperatures were between 80 and 83 degrees at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, according to recorded observations from the National Weather Service.