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How to Avoid Electrical Shock During Any Drain Cleaning Job

Updated: Jul 11, 2019

Despite all of the safety systems pre-built into cable machines, improperly wired electrical circuits can present unexpected jobsite dangers for the drain tech.

Despite all of the safety systems pre-built into cable machines, improperly wired electrical circuits can present unexpected jobsite dangers for the drain tech.  One of my customers in Kansas recently told me about a situation where his Model 1065 became live after plugging it in. Not realizing that the wiring in the older home was bad, he had picked up the cable and was unable to let go until his crew member heard his calls for help and cut the power. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident, as some of my other customers over the years have also shared scary stories about bad wiring and electrical shock-related injuries on jobsites. Even back in my plumbing days, I witnessed one of my motors burn up from this problem!

While I’ve been lucky enough to know of no one seriously injured or killed by bad wiring, it’s easy to see that electrical shock hazards are very real for anyone working in this field. But, when you can never be sure what you’re walking into from job to job, how can you ensure you’re protected?

1. Use an electrical tester.

The best defense against shock from reversed polarity (or just plain wrong) wiring is an electrical tester. Before plugging in your machine, a quick check with one of these relatively cheap devices (I recommend the Fluke 2AC VoltAlert Voltage Detector for under 30 bucks) will let you know if an outlet is bad. Outlets in older homes and buildings (50 years and older, especially those that are still two-prong) should definitely be tested, but really, the process is simple enough that any outlet should be checked before starting a job. After all, you can never be sure what potential, D-I-Y “repairs” the business or homeowner has already done. Not only will it save your equipment from serious damage, but—most importantly—it might just save your life.

(Looking for a refresher on how to use an electrical tester? Click here for a quick how-to.)

2. Keep your GFI cord on.

While the Ground-Fault-Interrupter (GFI) Cord equipped on cable machines will not help with a “live” outlet (making a tester still a necessity), it will protect against other shock hazards you may encounter when dealing with electricity and a wet environment. I know of some customers who have cut this cord off their cable machine to be able to plug into older, 2-prong outlets, but it is simply a bad decision.

Because the machine is not grounded properly, not only do you run the risk of burning up your machine and costing yourself hundreds of dollars (and a removed GFI cord voids the manufacturer's warranty), but it is also a risk to your life just not worth taking. Make sure you get home safely to your family at the end of every day!

3. Practice the two-man crew rule.

While this may not be feasible for all plumbing and drain cleaning businesses, another crew member on the job can help spot potential hazards or provide assistance if a problem does arise. The stories from my customers who encountered bad wiring may have ended far differently, had it not been for the presence and quick thinking of another crew member. When possible, work with a partner.

When you’re a plumber or drain cleaner there’s a lot of unknowns, from the nature of the customer’s problem to the condition of the plumbing itself. Just as important to consider are the unknowns when it comes to the state of a building’s electrical work and the hazards it may present. With an electrical tester, a GFI cord, and another set of eyes, you can eliminate some of the variables.

Stay safe out there!

Jason Robey has been with Spartan Tool since 2011, and, before that, worked as a service technician performing drain cleaning and light plumbing work for 12 years. Jason has gained a great deal of experience using sewer cameras and jetters during his time in the field, and is proud to serve Kansas, Nebraska, and Western Missouri.

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