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Drain Cleaner Safety
   - Reducing Risk of Injury and Damage

Background of Risks from Cross Bores

Drain cleaners are typically service providers that open minor blockages of sewers and drains.

Blockages result in backups and overflows. Unless promptly dealt with, damage to the interior of homes and businesses can occur from water or wastewater damage. The unpleasant interruption of the use of toilets, sinks and showers calls for immediate attention.

Historically, devices that have been used to open sewers include rotating cutters that can be inserted in a plugged drain line. Often the problem may arise from foreign objects introduced to the system, roots in sewer lines, collapsed pipe and offset joints.

Cutting devices have been proven effective in opening sewers. Root cutters are typically electrically powered "snakes" that have a steel cutter on the end that can open sewers. These cutters can cut through plastic gas distribution, communication, water and other utilities inadvertently installed through sewers.Buring House from Cross Bore


Explosion and Risk of Death

If a cross bore is in a sewer line that is being opened by a root cutter, the utility line can be cut. If it is a gas line, gas will be introduced into the connected structure. In a matter of a few moments, gas/air concentrations can reach the explosive range. Sparks from electric motors and switches or pilot lights for water heaters and furnaces can ignite the gas/air mixture with catastrophic results including explosion and complete destruction of the structure and death.

If electric lines are hit by the root cutter, shock of the operator can result in injury or death.

Other utilities used for communications normally will not cause immediate injury, but communication with emergency services such as police or fire departments is in impeded. Delayed response then can be result in loss of property, injury or death.

 Push rod cameras are ineffective in identifying a cross bore if the line is already backed up with water/sewerage. The visibility is limited.

Burned sewer service contractor employee.
Drain Cleaner Safety is Important! This technician required 17 operations after surviving a gas cross bore explosion.

Suggestions for Drain Cleaner Safety

Highlights Found on This Page

Covid-19 Update: Increased use of surface  disinfectant wipes cause higher sewer maintenance and risk of "Activating" Cross Bore damages:
▪ Flushing wipes in toilets can cause more sewer backups and result in more drain cleaning
▪  Drain cleaning should not use cutting tools when near a gas line crossing area
▪  Disposal of wipes is recommended in waste bins

Covid-19 CDC Worker Safety per CDC:

Should wastewater workers take extra precautions to protect themselves from the COVID-19 virus?

Wastewater treatment plant operations should ensure workers follow routine practices to prevent exposure to wastewater. These include using engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE normally required for work tasks when handling untreated wastewater. No additional COVID-19–specific protections are recommended for employees involved in wastewater management operations, including those at wastewater treatment facilities. 3/21/2020

For additional information:
CDC: Guidance for reducing health risks to workers handling human waste or sewage

Photos - Cross Bores and Explosions

Burning house explosionCross Bore Photo

Root Cutters

Referred to as "root cutters" , rotating cutters mounted on a flexible drive that is inserted into a drain. The inserting point may be at a sink, bath drain, vent pipe or removed toilet. The cutters are capable of cutting roots and also plastic pipe.

Push Rod Cameras

Video cameras that are approximately 2" in diameter mounted on to a flexible, but stiff cable, that can view and display up to 200 ft of pipe from the inside. Usually used on smaller pipes of less than 8" diameter. Can be used from inside of structures at drains and toilets. Unfortunately, are unable to have good visibility once a drain line is backed-up and full of water or wastewater and debris.

Minnesota Public Safety Commission Notice to Drain Cleaners

Virginia INFO:

Plumbers Beware Info

Virginia Impact Mole Best Practices