The Risks Behind Septic Pumping!

The pumping and cleaning of septic tanks is a highly specialized job, as any vacuum truck operator will quickly agree. Not only is it physically demanding, it is dangerous due to the potential exposure to highly toxic materials and gases. The proper handling of hazardous materials is essential, as it could result in serious illness or even death if not done properly. For these reasons, every septic service should ensure that operators are well-trained in the safety procedures involved in not only running the equipment but in handling toxic materials in order to protect themselves, others and the environment.


There are two handling times when vacuum truck operators should be the most observant: when performing the actual job and when emptying and cleaning the equipment. Both can have equally devastating results if not properly executed, putting an owning company at risk for fines and other penalties from OSHA. Even the most careful operators can have an accident, so it is essential that all employees be well-trained and understand and follow all company safety procedures.

Job Site Protection

Following are several things important areas to contemplate when working at a job site.

Opening – Septic containers must be opened with extreme care as solid waste can decompose, releasing toxic gases that fill the tank. Hydrogen sulfide and methane gases could cause a large explosion as well as be extremely toxic and suffocate or kill a person with only a few deep breaths. Bacteria is also present in decomposing material which could be harmful with direct contact. So it is essential to wear safety gear including respirators, gloves and protective clothing.
Flammability – Of course, the hazardous gases would explode if a spark or flame were encountered, so smoking or any type of flame is strictly prohibited due to these gases.
Suctioning – When suctioning from a septic tank, operators must be very observant since there is much more involved in this procedure than simply waiting for a container to fill. As the material is transferred from the tank into the truck container, gases along with pressure and temperature can build up. Any matter left inside the container from a previous job could cause a chemical reaction. Workers must keep a close watch on temperature and pressure gauges to watch for any problems.

Waste Disposal Protection

Once a septic tank has been safely and successfully suctioned, the disposal of toxic waste is the next main safety concern.

Dump Sites – Operators must know where approved dump sites are located and be able to document the type of material being carried to avoid any toxic reactions, spills or other accidents. Any rules set forth by the dump site or any governmental agencies must be strictly followed.
Maintenance – Vehicle maintenance must be performed on a regular basis to prevent potential equipment failure during the dumping procedure.
Cleaning – Once the truck tank has been emptied, it must be thoroughly cleaned as leaving a clean truck for the next operation is a very critical safety precaution. As previously mentioned, any material remaining inside a truck’s reservoir that could mix with new material from a future job could possibly cause a chemical reaction which would at least cause delays while the problem is handled and even worse, could cause the tank to explode.

Ultimately, work safety depends on employee training and subsequent diligence in following precautionary measures; this should be required by every company. Accidents involving septic pumping may appear to be only an unpleasant nuisance; realistically, it could be much more serious than that. Proper safety methods are vital in providing safe, thorough septic services and in reducing any involved risks!