Septic Trucks: Knowing Your Load Level and Keeping Employees Safe

What’s the best way for me to measure the waste in my tank as I proceed along a daily restroom service route?

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QUESTION: I’ve had nothing but problems with my mechanical liquid gauge located on the rear head of my vacuum tank. It works well when there is a lot of liquid involved in the tank, but seems to get stuck when it really counts. When I think we’re half full and we’re really 80 percent full, I have to run to the dump and then come back and finish the job. Profit flies out the window. Is there a better way?

Hank Albertson, Pierre, S.D.

ANSWER: The mechanical gauge you are referring to is basically a float valve on a steel rod. As the liquid inside a tank rises, the float valve rises with it. The mechanical gauge on the outside of the tank reads E to F (empty to full). When the float gets stuck, it ends up buried in the muck. You have to monitor the readout and have a good feel for how much liquid is inside your tank. There is no alarm system to warn you that the float is stuck. On the bright side, it is reasonably inexpensive, which also leads to getting what you pay for.

Some operators prefer a simple, clear suction hose mounted vertically on the front or rear head. This serves as a sight tube. The tube indicates the same liquid level as the inside of the tank. On the downside, these tubes can get muddy easily and require replacement. A simple, clear hose will not work because the vacuum causes it to collapse. Another downside of this sight tube is that it might get snagged and get pulled off the tank, resulting in a messy spill.

You can also use sight bubbles to make a visual check of liquid level in your tank. Sight bubbles are clear bowls, 5 inches in diameter, mounted on the rear head. Generally there is a low level bubble, a mid-bubble and an upper bubble located about a foot from the top. Some technicians prefer more bubbles, but three is usually the number. The bubbles are secured with large thumbscrews for easy removal and replacement. Like the clear suction hose, sight bubbles have the downside of getting dirty. Sight bubbles are the most popular method of checking liquid levels.

If budget is not a concern, you can choose an electronic gauge. This is a pole mounted inside the tank with a float that rides up and down the length. The gauge, mounted inside the cab, provides a digital readout of the liquid volume. It is an accurate solution, but more costly than other solutions.

Protect your drivers with the right truck safety gear

QUESTION:  I’ve been running barebones for quite a while and people have told me I’m going to get in trouble for safety violations or with OSHA [the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration]. What kind of fundamental and basic safety steps should I take?

Aaron Nesmith, Orlando, Fla.

ANSWER: Be aware of what’s required by your state and OSHA. Each state sets its own standards for safety. OSHA sometimes goes further than these state safety requirements.

In your case, I’ll suggest some basic equipment or steps you can take to improve safety in your operation. More and more states require flashing beacon lights on trucks working in the field. This warns the public that something is going on. More pumpers are also placing bright orange construction cones around their truck and work area.

Additions like beacons and construction cones can be the saving grace when there’s a question of liability after a mishap.

Make sure your truck is clearly marked with the required safety tape; either red, yellow or black and white. Make sure your tape is up to par with safety standards and is clearly visible from all angles.

Have sufficient work lights on your truck – usually mounted on the tank – so you can clearly see what you’re doing on the job. It’s easy to trip and fall in the early-morning darkness, or the evening shadows.

These are just a few safety measures you can take to avoid accidents and injury. Check with local officials or OSHA to find out what is required in your area. You want to ensure a safe working environment for you and your team.


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