One of the main safety concerns regarding the operation of vacuum trucks is the prevention of exposure to toxic gases and fumes, since such a risk has the potential to be deadly, not only to crew members but to anyone in the immediate area. In order to prevent costly accidents due to toxic gas exposure, operators need to be correctly trained about the proper use of these vehicles and the necessary precautions that should be taken to prevent gas build-up and release. Trucks need to be in excellent working condition as well and the entire crew must be able to work together to ensure the safety of one another.
- Inspections – Every vehicle should always be inspected for any wear and tear as well as any malfunctions before and after every use. The hydraulic system, controls, vents, seals and all working parts of the vacuum truck should be examined for potential weaknesses that could ultimately affect its performance or create a spill. Additionally, it should never be assumed that a unit is ready for use just because the previous operator inspected it at the end of the previous shift. Every operator should personally go over the vehicle and should also know exactly what materials were previously transported to prevent any possibility of a chemical reaction in the event that any residual material has been left behind.
- Safety Equipment – No operator should attempt to vacuum any potentially hazardous content without the correct safety gear, such as approved gloves, goggles and a respirator. Being this cautious will prevent the possibility of skin or eye exposure as well as breathing in harmful gases or fumes that could be toxic.
- Proper Procedures – Operators should be well-trained in the proper way to safely suction any type of waste material, especially any that are hazardous or toxic. They should also know exactly what to do in the event of a spill or gas release. Another thing that workers must know is the correct positioning and use of the vacuum truck in order to prevent venting issues and how to keep others safe in the event this type of accident should occur. It is important to be sure that discharge and vent lines are long enough and positioned correctly as well as to check air vents and tank-level indicators frequently to ensure proper functioning with no leakage. It is also valuable to use gravity loading and unloading whenever possible as it is the safest way to handle toxic material. Using a vapor-recovery system to keep from releasing gases into the atmosphere is another way to ensure that both workers and the environment are protected.
- Dumping Areas – Keeping detailed records of what each truck is carrying and knowing that a load should never be exchanged from one truck to another without such information should help ensure that operators have no doubt as to which unloading area is the proper one for the waste material being carried. Dumping this type of material in the wrong receptacle could create chemical reactions producing toxic fumes and gases as well as even cause explosions; so the proper emptying of vacuum trucks is critical.
In order to reduce the risks involved with the loading, carrying and unloading of toxic material, workers need to be thorough in job performance and take enough time to check all work being done. If there is ever a question about: how a truck is performing; the materials being carried or has been carried in the past; or where material should be unloaded, always err on the side of caution. There are no second chances for workers when overcome by toxic fumes; in most cases, these kind of accidents are preventable with the correct safety procedures, good equipment maintenance, and operator observations!