Drain cleaners seem benign enough — they don't have the reputation as a dangerous piece of equipment that, say, a chainsaw might have. But like all power equipment that uses blades to cut, they can be dangerous, particularly in the hands of those who are unaware of the potential hazards. Despite their humble job, reckless use of a drain cleaner can result in electrocution or serious injury. Surprised? Read on.
Marty Silverman, advertising manager at General Pipe Cleaners, relays stories about how simple mistakes can result in grave consequences. "Say a man tells his helper to put a drain cleaning machine in a location where its frayed extension cord happens to lie across the wet ground. The helper, wearing rubber boots, tries to use the machine but complains he is getting shocked. The man teases his helper for his cowardice and goes to operate the machine wearing street shoes. When he turns on the machine, he is electrocuted."
In a different situation, Silverman tells of "a maintenance foreman who has two of his men get in a hole to guide the cable into the line. The machine sits on the street above with another man operating the foot pedal. When the cable hits an obstruction, it begins to buck. The men yell to stop the machine but the man above ground isn't paying attention and doesn't stop it immediately. The cable suddenly kinks. One of the men lets out a horrible yell. He has just lost two fingers."
While these stories sound extreme, they represent the real dangers associated with the careless use of drain cleaners. To protect your customers, be sure to arm yourself with the right information to prevent needless injuries.
The first line of defense is always the operator's manual. Every machine comes with one. Be sure to read it and keep it with the machine for the duration of its useful life. In fact, make several copies and be sure one goes out with the unit on each rental. Many manufacturers offer a variety of safety and instructional materials — such as pamphlets and videos — at no cost to the rental operator. Be sure to put them to use.
After you've supplied the proper instructional materials, be sure to offer the right safety attire to your renters. Users should always wear heavy leather gloves, for example, as opposed to cloth. "A cloth glove might get caught between the coils of the cable while it is rotating," Silverman notes.
Likewise, safety glasses should be worn at all times during peration. This is to protect the eyes from debris that might fly up from the drain as it is being cleaned.
Not only are these items important for the safety of your customers, they also create a good opportunity for add-on sales that can boost your bottom line.
Beware of shock
Once the operator has done everything he or she can to protect him or herself, the rest of the focus should be put on the machine and its operation.
Before and after each rental, machines should be checked for worn or damaged insulation on the power and extension cords. Also look for pulled out strain relief grommets, dangling switches and missing ground prongs. "Considering how little current leakage it takes to cause an electrical shock, the poor condition of some of these machines is amazing," says Silverman, adding that some manufacturers of drain cleaning equipment use a pneumatic foot pedal — an air bubble connected to the machine through the air hose — so there's no electricity running from the pedal to the machine. The wires and switching take place at the motor several feet above the wet floor.
All machines should have a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), which detects as little as five milliamps of leakage and shuts off the machine before the operator can be injured or electrocuted. "The GFCI should be integrated into the power cord so that not only the machine but the cord is protected as well," Silverman says. "You can also purchase extension cords that have an in-line GFCI. OSHA has taken the position that a GFCI is required whenever an extension cord is used."