Focus on Safety: Transporting and Operating Equipment

Following these basic safety rules should keep operators, the crew and others on the road safe from equipment-related issues

Focus on Safety: Transporting and Operating Equipment

A dump truck delivering sand to a treatment site tipped over due to the angle of the truck on the slope — instead of being perpendicular to the slope the truck was at an angle. (Thankfully, no one was hurt.)

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Many of the issues related to safety around equipment are not unique to those of us in the septic system industry, but they are still critical to maintaining a successful and safe business. Heavy trucks and trailers used to transport equipment and materials must be in compliance with all applicable regulations. Trailers should have adequate capacity for the projected loads they will bear.

The local or state regulatory authority may have requirements for annual inspections, but you should inspect equipment on a more frequent basis. Keeping a written log for each piece of equipment to track inspections, maintenance and repairs may be required by code. The driver should have a checklist for the rig that is used each day for inspection of parking and service brakes, belts and hoses, turn signals, back-up alarms, adequate tire tread, fluid leaks, etc. If issues are identified, they should be promptly addressed. 

Equipment carried on trailers must be properly positioned and secured. State authorities have jurisdiction over how a backhoe, excavator or similar equipment should be transported, including the position of buckets and minimum number of tie-down points. These agencies also provide minimum weight ratings for chains and chokers. These must be measured on a regular basis to gauge the amount of stretch that has occurred. The installer must be familiar with state requirements and take the necessary time to stay in compliance to avoid accidents and costly citations. 

Drivers who transport heavy equipment must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) with all appropriate endorsements. Typically, annual drug and alcohol testing of drivers is required by the state authority. As a company, you might also elect to conduct additional random testing as part of your safety management plan.   

Unloading and reloading equipment can be very dangerous if it must be done on the right-of-way. It is important that traffic be safely controlled by trained personnel during this time to prevent accidents from occurring. Equipment that is driven on the public right-of-way must be fitted with a slow-moving vehicle emblem. As is the case in any other vehicle, the driver should wear the seat belt.

Equipment-specific issues 

All equipment used in onsite wastewater treatment system installations must meet standard safety requirements including:

  • Seat belt
  • Back-up warning alarm
  • No fluid leaks
  • Appropriate belt guards
  • Adequate tire tread
  • Properly operating parking and service brakes
  • SMV emblem if equipment will be operated on a road
  • Roll-over protection structure (ROPS)

As with the trucks and trailers used to transport it, equipment used on the job should be properly inspected and maintained on a regular basis. Doing so prevents costly downtime caused by breakdowns and also increases the level of safety on the site.

If you are regularly operating heavy equipment here are some important things to remember:

1. Operators should be properly certified on the specific equipment they operate.

2. No riders should be permitted in or on the equipment unless the cab is designed for occupancy by more than one person.

3. Wearing the seat belt is a must to prevent injury in the event of a rollover. 

4. The operator must be aware of inevitable blind spots and know the swing of the bucket.

5. The operator must maintain eye contact with persons working on the ground near the equipment.

6. A uniform system of hand signals should be developed and used by both the operator and the flag man. A single person should be designated to deliver hand signals to the equipment operator to avoid confusion.

7. If utility lines are present in the vicinity of the work area, the operator must be aware of them and determine whether the piece of equipment can be safely operated.  

Following these basic safety rules should keep operators, the crew and others on the road safe from equipment-related issues. 

About the author
Sara Heger, Ph.D., is a researcher and educator in the Onsite Sewage Treatment Program in the Water Resources Center at the University of Minnesota, where she also earned her degrees in agricultural and biosystems engineering and water resource science. She presents at many local and national training events regarding the design, installation and management of septic systems and related research. Heger is the President-Elect of the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association and she serves on the NSF International Committee on Wastewater Treatment Systems. Ask Heger questions about septic system design, installation, maintenance and operation by sending an email to

This article is part of a series on safety:


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