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Drain Cleaning Machine Safety

Operation of any cable machine is inherently dangerous and the operator must be aware of these dangers and practice all available safety precautions. In fact, of the Seven Major Hazards of sewer and drain cleaning, operation of a cable machine involves protecting oneself against all of them with the exception of high-pressure water.


Spartan Tool’s cable machines are built with operator safety in mind! Safety features are listed on each cable machine web page.


Electrical Shock Hazards

Electrical shock is the first major hazard to consider when operating a cable machine. Electricity and standing water is a dangerous combination. Too often, drain and sewer cleaners work in this environment and fail to realize the dangers which exist because they see them so frequently. Safe equipment, proper dress and safety precautions all help to avoid electrical shock.

Ground Fault InterrupterGround Fault Interrupters (GFI) are standard on all Spartan cable machines. A GFI as an integral part of the machine is the preferred choice. Remember -- electrocution is possible if you plug your cable machine into an electrical outlet that is not grounded and you do not have a GFI on the machine! Spartan strongly recommends that you carry an electrical tester, to check the outlet to make sure it is properly grounded.All Spartan cable machines ship from our factory with a 25’ power cord and GFI, but when this length is not sufficient and an extension cord is needed, it should be rated heavy duty with tightly sealed connections to help keep water out.

Finally, we only install an air-activated footpedal on cable machines; when the foot pedal is depressed, air pressure is transmitted through the air hose and trips an electrical switch on the back of the cable machine. In fact, if a cable machine is brought in for refurbishing or repair and an old style electrical footpedal is found, Spartan factory technicians will simply replace it with a safer air footpedal without hesitation or charge. We want our customers to be safe!

For more information on preventing electrical shock dangers, read the Spartan blog post on this topic.

Disease Hazards

Disease prevention is another major hazard whenever one is in potential contact with wastewater. Bacteria, virus, parasites and fungi are found in drains and sewers, along with human feces, urine, contaminated water, bloodborne pathogens, or even animal waste are all sources of potential contamination.

The following are the major diseases of concern to professional sewer and drain cleaners:

Hepatitis -- Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. Professional drain and sewer cleaners are primarily concerned with Hepatitis B. Contact from the hands to the mouth must be avoided, and cuts and abrasions can serve as entry points for infection.

Amoebic Dysentery -- Amoebic dysentery is an infectious disease producing an inflammation of the colon, which results in the painful passage of bloody

Infectious Jaundice -- infectious Jaundice is a disease that produces headaches, severe muscle aches, chills or fever. Indirect contact with contaminated water or solids may cause infectious jaundice.

Tetanus -- Tetanus is an acute infectious disease characterized by an intermittent tonic spasm of voluntary muscles. Convulsions also result. The spores which cause tetanus can be found in the soil and feces of animals. Lockjaw is a form of tetanus affecting the jaw muscles. Drain and sewer cleaners are especially concerned with tetanus!

Typhoid Fever -- Typhoid Fever is a lymphatic tissue infection characterized by fever and intestinal disorders. It can be acquired by ingesting food or water contaminated by excreta. Check with a physician about inoculation.

Paratyphoid Fever -- Paratyphoid Fever is a milder form of Typhoid Fever. It can be acquired by direct or indirect contact between the technician and the wastewater. Symptoms are similar to those of Typhoid Fever, but the pain and discomfort is usually milder.

Sewer Drain Cleaning: 8 Steps to Avoid Contamination and Disease

Dealing with contaminated wastewater is not a major obstacle if one takes the time to use proper safeguards to prevent illness while performing sewer and drain cleaning jobs:

Be Properly Inoculated
Your physician is the professional who will give you the best advice and treatment. Hepatitis B is a common inoculation that is available for protection against bloodborne pathogen.

 Wear Eye Protection
If wastewater is thrown from a rotating cable into a technician’s eyes, illness can result. If the hands are contaminated and they touch the eyes, ears, or mouth, illness can result. These openings provide an entry point for microorganisms. Safety goggles not only serve as protection against wastewater, they will also prevent eye injury from flying debris.

Wear Rubber or Latex Gloves
Waterproof gloves, when worn underneath heavy steel reinforced cable safety gloves, help to create a barrier between any cuts or abrasions on the hands and contaminated wastewater. Spartan sells both types of gloves and our customers purchase them regularly.

 Wear Coveralls to Reduce Exposed Skin
The more barriers you can put between your body and any source of contamination, the better your chances of avoiding accidental exposure to serious health problems. Skin is less likely to be cut when covered, and covered arms and hands are particularly important when performing sewer and drain cleaning jobs.

Do Not Touch Eyes, Ears, or Mouth on Service Calls
Once your hands come into contact with wastewater, extreme care must be taken to avoid possible infection and illness. If you put those hands to your eyes, ears, or mouth, you have provided a method for microorganisms to enter the body, and illness and disease are a definite possibility as a result. Don’t provide an opportunity for microorganisms!

Cover All Cuts and Abrasions Before the Service Call
A break in the skin allows microorganisms to enter the body. Make sure to cover all cuts and abrasions before heading to a job site. If cuts or abrasions occur on the job, cover them immediately and seek the advice of a physician.

Wash with Antibacterial Soap After Each Service Call
Use hot, soapy water and an antibacterial soap to wash your hands and arms after every service call. The microorganisms on the hands and arms must be removed to minimize the risk of contracting disease or becoming ill on the job. Remember, some microorganisms may continue to live if steps are not taken to remove and destroy them.

Maintain Proper Diet and Exercise
Always great advice! Even though sewer and drain cleaning professionals get lots of on-the-job exercise by lifting machines, cables, hoses, and so on, this is not necessarily the type of exercise that results in long-term health benefits. Maintaining a proper diet is tough, especially when long days and late-night plumbing emergencies make it difficult to eat properly. But a healthy body is your best defense against the hazards of contracting diseases from wastewater.


Cable entanglement is probably the only major sewer and drain cleaning hazard that cannot be completely engineered out of a power drain snake. The following information is a supplement to an excellent blog post on this topic and provides a bit more detail.


Three Foot Rule

It’s worth restating that the power snake operator must locate the drain cleaning machine no more than three feet away from the drain opening. If this is not done, the cable under torque can form a dangerous loop that can easily sever a finger, tear tendons, or even break a wrist or arm.

All Spartan Tool power feed machines come with a cable safety guide as standard equipment. This hard but flexible tube protects the operator from cable entanglement when used to bridge the distance between the drain opening and the machine.9-

If it isn’t possible to locate the cable machine close to the drain opening, a piece of plastic pipe 1-1/2 inches in diameter, should be placed between the machine and the opening of the pipe to be cleaned. The plastic pipe will keep the cable from looping and causing injury.

Spartan’s larger cable machines include a cable safety guide and it is available for purchase on the website.

Cable Helixes and Pinch Spaces

When a cable rotates and torque builds and releases, the cable expands and contracts. The cable helixes, or loops, also open and close in tandem with the torque pressure. This opening and closing action of the cable helixes creates a pinch space that creates a hazard for the operator. Cloth gloves, long hair, or loose clothing can easily get caught in this pinch space, resulting in potential injury.

Operators who wear improper clothing such as lightweight cloth gloves have lost fingers and even experienced torn tendons and broken wrists and arms. Long hair will be instantly ripped from the scalp in chunks. The best defense against pinch space hazards is to wear heavy duty sewer cleaning gloves, avoid loose fitting clothing, and tie up long hair.

It is also worth restating the need to wear rubber boots with metatarsal guards and safety goggles to protect against flying debris, falling objects and wastewater. We stress the need to wear gloves -- unprotected skin can get cut and the risk of infection and disease is ever-present.

Cable Shooting Out of the Drum

Operating the cable machine in “reverse”, which means the drum is rotating counter-clockwise, forces the cable to twist in the opposite direction from which it is wound. When enough torque is developed, the cable will release the tension. If there is sufficient space inside the drum, the cable may then completely flip around and exit the drum instantly and possibly cause injury or property damage. A cable safety guide will help prevent injury in this circumstance, but the best defense is to NEVER run your machine in reverse unless the cable is caught and cannot be freed.

Cable Rotating Before Attachment is Placed in Pipe

Before a cable is rotated, the attachment needs to be placed in the drain pipe. This lowers the risk of injury from the attachment. While this may seem like straightforward common sense (and it is), the key to successful sewer and drain cleaning includes the proper use of all equipment and in particular, the drain cable itself.