Vacuum Truck Operations

Vacuum excavation uses pressurized water or air to breakup soil and remove it using high-powered vacuum suction. Vacuum excavation has many applications including utility locating or potholing; digging assistance near active utilities; installation of road signs, posts, or footings; and many others. If an operator will be exposing existing utilities, it is critical he understands best practices for damage prevention and underground utility construction methods. This lets the operator perform the work, recognize hazards, and manage risks to himself, coworkers, and the public, along with minimizing utility damage during excavation. It is critical that employees follow all operating procedures, industry standards and safety policies & procedures.

Six simple tips for work site safety:

After you have established traffic control and site safety plans and vacuum excavation work begins, use these tips to maintain a safe work site: 

  1. Use a one-call center to mark all underground utilities so you can excavate a precise hole and anticipate hazards as you progress through the ground.
  2. Use proper personal protective equipment as determined by your company or utility safety policy. Set up a safety perimeter with limited access and consider a splashguard when starting the hole.
  3. As you excavate, do not stand near a hole as it gets larger and deeper. Cave-ins are possible at this point, so protect yourself and those nearby.
  4. If you are using pressurized water or air be careful not to use more pressure than necessary so you do not damage existing utilities. A high-pressure water gun at 4,000 to 5,000 psi can easily cut a power cable.
  5. Do not leave large rocks hanging inside the hole because they could fall onto and damage exposed utilities. Remove large rocks as you excavate or lower them into the bottom hole and leave them there at the end of the job.
  6. Never attempt clearing a clogged hose with hands or arms, as they will be sucked into the suction hose and you will be unable to break free. This can cause blood pooling, painful swelling and blood clots which can lead to death or dismemberment.

Safety on the job site is everyone’s responsibility. High-pressure air is used to disturb the settled and compacted ground, which leads to a lot of flying debris at high velocities. Here is the minimum safety PPE you need when working on or in the vicinity of a vacuum excavation truck.

  • Hard Hat- A hard hat is required when working on or around the vacuum excavation truck. 
  • Safety Glasses with Side Shields- Safety glasses must be rated ANSI Z87.
  • Face Shields-To provide additional protection not only to the eyes but to the worker’s entire face.
  • Ear Plugs / Hearing Protection- Includes all personnel working within 100 feet of the truck.
  • ANSI Class III Retro-reflective Safety Vest- To be highly visible to drivers and equipment operators.