Silverman adds that if you have a machine without a pneumatic foot pedal, just putting a GFCI at the end of the power cord will reduce the chance of electric shock and make the machine significantly safer.
Instruct customers to be sure the machine is plugged into a properly grounded outlet. If there is doubt, instruct them to check the outlet with a ground checker before plugging in the machine. And always use the right size cord for the machine.
"If the power cord supplied with the machine is not long enough, be sure to use a three-wire, heavy-duty extension cord that's in good condition," says Silverman. "Using lighter cords can result in severe power loss and motor overheating. Use a 16-gauge cord for 1/3- and 1/2-hp motors, 14-gauge for 3/4- and 1-hp motors, and 12-gauge for 1-1/2- and 2-hp motors. The extension cord should be no more than 50 feet long."
Clearing the clog
Using a drain cleaner to clear a clog is fairly simple but can be made more difficult if the user forces the cable. "You won't get the job done any faster and you could damage the cable or injure yourself," says Silverman.
For optimum performance and their own safety, instruct customers to let the cutter do the work. "If a user sees excess torque build up on the cable, he or she should stop the machine immediately and put it in reverse for a few rotations to relieve the tension," advises Mark Speranza, vice president of sales at Electric Eel. "Excess tension could cause the cable to fracture. At all times, the machine should be run in forward; do not feed cable when the machine is in reverse."
Excessive torque on the cable can cause it to whip and kink, possibly injuring the operator in the process. Speranza warns, "Never handle a rotating cable or a cable under tension."
For the novice user, a sectional walk-behind unit can be the safest option. "Cables are available in eight- or 10-foot sections and they snap together and are driven off the front of the machine," Speranza explains. "The advantage to this is that the user never touches the cable while it is rotating."
Also, remind customers that drain cleaners are designed for one-person operation only. "The person controlling the foot pedal or on/off switch should also be the same person controlling the cable," Silverman says. "Following this rule will eliminate many hand injuries."
Finally, remind customers that when leaving the machine unattended, be sure to turn it off and unplug it, particularly if children are in the area.
Returning from rent
"Once a machine is back in your hands after a rental, be sure to check it over for problems right away," says Brad Wildauer, manager of new product development and marketing at Cobra Products. "Check the cord to be sure it is not frayed or damaged and make sure the cage of the machine is not bent."
Further, all electrical connections should be checked and the cable should be inspected for kinks and damage. If it's in good working order, the cable should be lubricated to protect it from rust, Wildauer says.
Because they are used in such dirty environments, drain cleaners should be thoroughly cleaned after each rental. To disinfect the cable, Silverman suggests using a solution of one part chlorine bleach to 20 parts water. After the unit is clean, it should be lubricated with oil. "Acids in the drain and sewer lines can attack and deteriorate the metal of the cables and tools," says Speranza. "This can cause premature fracture or breakage in tools or cable."
No matter what safety features a machine has, it's only as safe as its operator. Wildauer points out that the best way to ensure the safety of your customers renting drain cleaning machines is to educate your employees, for they are the ones who will be instructing the user. Take the time to train employees on the safe operation of your equipment, because a safe customer is a satisfied customer and safe drain cleaner is a productive drain cleaner.