Is Onsite Safety Your Responsibility?

Don't give the industry a black eye. It’s your responsibility as the onsite professional to check and double-check that all parts of a job site and onsite system are safe.
Is Onsite Safety Your Responsibility?
Neglecting safety gives the entire industry a black eye.

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Stories about people — mostly children — falling into septic tanks are making headlines left and right these days. For instance, a child recently fell into a tank after stepping on an improperly fastened lid. In this case, the child was pulled to safety and survived — a happy ending. However, not all victims of such incidents are as fortunate. 

It’s these events that illustrate how important it is for onsite installers to pay careful attention during every service visit to ensure homeowners and anyone else who might come in contact with the onsite treatment system are safe.

The bottom line? It’s your responsibility as the onsite professional to check and double-check that all parts of a job site and onsite system are safe. Neglecting safety gives the entire industry a black eye. Here’s a look at how and why industry changes make it your responsibility to ensure the safety of onsite systems you install and inspect. 

A lot has changed over the years in terms of tank structure, system design and access, and safety regulations. 

More than 40 years ago, most septic tanks were concrete and buried as deep as they needed to be so everything could flow by gravity away from the house. Access to the tank was on an as-needed basis only when there was a problem. Heavy lids and covers were purposely difficult to remove because they were only removed a few times throughout the life of the system. 

Neglecting safety gives the entire industry a black eye.

Unauthorized access by the homeowner was virtually unheard of because tanks were buried so deep, and even if you took the time and effort to dig them up, gaining access was still difficult. A heavy lid was also a great deterrent. 

Then the onsite industry began to recognize the importance of keeping the final soil dispersal area shallow, which meant both raising all parts of the system closer to the surface and often adding a pump to deliver the effluent to an above-ground system. 

Industry professionals also recognized (pumpers knew this for a long time) that regular tank cleaning was vital to proper onsite system operation, which meant tank and pump access became a basic requirement.  

Tanks were installed with 6 inches of cover with risers for easy access. It was also a safety precaution because it kept the access out of sight and it still took effort to dig out. Again, there was not much chance of an unauthorized person or child gaining access to the tank. 

However, as more mound systems with pump stations were installed in the 80s it was often necessary to finish system access at or above grade, so chains and padlocks were added to minimize access. This helped, but many of those older systems are still in the ground because of abandonment or neglect. 

As the public and industry became more aware that onsite systems were long-term wastewater treatment solutions, modified tank structures and access materials accommodated routine maintenance. These changes, such as lightweight plastic risers, simplify the installer’s job, but access points are visible. Fortunately, covers and lids manufactured today include built-in safety features to help prevent unintentional or accidental access. 

But homeowners still need to understand safety precautions and potential hazards. I still see screws out of place or other shoddy work when I show up to inspection jobs. There are many possible reasons for this — threads were stripped, screws were dropped, the service provider meant to come back and replace them but had not made it there yet. 

Regardless of the reason, the bottom line is that it is your responsibility to ensure all parts of a job site and onsite system are safe and secure when you leave. So if there are issues with lids — they don’t fit anymore, the screws broke off — fix it. Leaving it broken is not good or acceptable practice, and it gives the entire industry a black eye. If it means a trip back the next day, then do it. The site needs to be secured and the homeowner made aware of the issue and what is being done to fix it. If we do not do this we will continue to see these sometimes-fatal news stories and say it should not have happened. 

Check out these risers, lids and other septic tank components to ensure your job sites are safe and secure: www.onsiteinstaller.com/editorial/2013/06/septic_tanks_and_components3

About the Author

Jim Anderson is connected with the University of Minnesota onsite wastewater treatment education program, is an emeritus professor in the university’s Department of Soil Water and Climate, and education coordinator for the National Association of Wastewater Technicians.

Send him questions about septic system maintenance and operation by email to kim.peterson@colepublishing.com.



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