Remembering Amari Harley, and the Need for Safe Septic Tank Lids

A new playground in the Arlington neighborhood of Jacksonville, Florida, was recently named in honor of Amari Harley, the little boy who drowned after falling into a septic tank while playing in a park. 

The city of Jacksonville made good on its promise back in 2018 to make the lids on septic tanks at parks throughout the city secure, to prevent more tragedies like the one that claimed the life of 3-year-old Amari in October 2017. Five months after the accident, 193 city septic tanks were secured with heavy, locking, metal lids. 

The saddest thing about the story of Amari, and the several other such accidents we’ve covered over the years, is that it was preventable. In fact, the same tank Amari fell into had been the subject of two previous complaints filed with the city. An inspector found the lid was still unsecured a month before the boy died. 

It seems like every year we report on a similar tragedy at least once, with a reminder to help educate your customers and communities about septic tank lid safety to prevent them in the future. This time at least it was sparked by more positive news and not another accidental death. 

I know these reminders are not falling on deaf ears here in the industry, but unfortunately this important message of lid safety doesn’t appear to be universally known among all septic system users. But don’t give up trying to educate your customers. Teach them about the importance of regularly inspecting their lids and risers for damage or vandalism. Encourage them to call you if they have questions about safety.  

Get involved in public discourse on this issue. Contact your local media outlets to help bring light to these tragic cases and explain how everyone can help prevent them in the future. Use your website and social media posts to help inform your customers and other community members about this issue.  

Securing septic tank lids needs to be a priority for everyone involved in the onsite industry: installers, pumpers, maintenance providers, inspectors, regulators and homeowners. 

Here are some tips from instructor Sara Heger:

  1. If you see an unsafe lid, don’t walk away from it! Often when you are out doing service or an inspection on a system, the owner is not home. This typically results in a report with a list of repair activities that need to occur and you wait to receive permission. Issues of safety should not be optional repairs. Therefore, having service and maintenance vehicles stocked with likely material for lid repair and replacement is key. In addition, have safety tape and lathes to block off the area until the repair can be made with the supplies available. A new lid can be made available for under $50.
  2. Include information about lid and tank safety on all education materials you provide, and place danger signs on exposed lids. The potential risk of an open septic tank is not something that all members of the general public understand, and it is part of all our jobs to change this. To the public, falling in a septic tank seems like a disgusting mess to get out of, and unfortunately some people think that it doesn’t pose a real danger. Include a reminder to check tank covers between servicing to make sure lids are in place, screws are securely fastened and there is no cover damage.
  3. If you are concerned about a lid that is technically safe but likely to be driven over or accessed by the public, install a permanent barricade, secondary restraint or additional locking mechanism. A safety screen or secondary restraint can be added for as little as $25 and provides an extra layer of protection and should be installed even if the access is not exposed to traffic and public. 


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