Ripped From the Headlines For Your Consideration

We’re talking about grease trap safety regulations, pumper wage comparisons and a fun wastewater educational video.

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This month we’re reaching into the grab bag of Pumper news and notes:

A new grease trap safety law should be extended to include septic tanks 

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul recently signed Bryce’s Law requiring all grease traps located in public places to be secured to prevent unauthorized access. The legislation calls for the state Fire Prevention and Building Code Council to develop regulations to ensure grease trap access points withstand expected loads and prevent unauthorized access. It also orders warning signs or symbols be placed on grease trap lids. 

Bryce’s Law is named for Bryce Raynor, a 3-year-old boy from Rochester, New York, who fell into a grease trap and drowned in 2019. The plastic lid to the 500-gallon grease trap was unsecured. After the boy fell into the tank, the lid flipped back in place, according to news accounts.

Former State Assemblywoman Jamie Romeo spearheaded the new rules after reading about tragedy that occurred at a Tim Horton’s restaurant.

“I am filled with a profound sense of sadness and anger,” Romeo was quoted in media accounts. “When my office began researching this matter and learned that similar horrific accidents had occurred in Alabama, Louisiana and New Jersey, I kept returning to the question, why didn’t the industry correct an identified deadly problem?”   

Does all this sound familiar? I have written about similar tragedies in the past involving unsecured septic tanks. As far back as 2007 I wrote that septic system owners needed a wake-up call. This was after 3-year-old Loic Rogers died after falling into a septic tank near Kalispell, Montana. The deaths of both Bryce and Loic could have been prevented if tank lids were secured properly and inspected regularly by the property owners.

The wastewater industry has made strides to provide extra security products for tank lids, and many pumpers convey the importance of lid security to their customers. Perhaps other states should look at Bryce’s Law and enact further legislation to protect the public from septic tank mishaps. And Bryce’s Law itself should be broadened in scope to include septic tanks as well as grease traps. 

Assemblywoman Sara Clark (D-Rochester) said she hopes the New York law will help prevent future tragedies. 

“With better protocols in place, this could have been prevented. We must do more to protect the public and enhance workplace safety,” she said in a statement. “These provisions enacted by this legislation are commonsense measures.”

I understand that passing a law in itself may not stop the senseless death and injury of children who play around septic tanks or grease traps. But it’s a good start. Now we as an industry have to routinely reinforce that safety message with customers and the general public. 

How do pumper wages stack up?

I’m sure you wonder how your company’s wage scale compares to those in similar job classifications and against a national average. And you might be more curious these days as what is being called The Great Resignation is sending blue collar worker scrambling for better pay. Recently the Courier newspaper in Iowa crunched data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and detailed wages of the highest-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree. Let’s look at how the wastewater industry fared.

Septic tank servicers and sewer pipe cleaners. According to the report, the national average annual salary is $43,930 for the estimated 29,880 workers in the field. The highest average pay was found in Joplin, Missouri at $71,930; Stockton-Lodi, California at $70,340; and Rochester, Minnesota, at $63,200.

Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators. The national average is $51,890 for the approximate 119,380 workers in the field. The top wages were found in San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California at $99,130; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California at $89,730; and Vallejo-Fairfield, California at $86,080.     

Plumbers, pipefitters and steam fitters. The salary for an estimated 417,440 workers in the category is $61,100. The areas with the highest pay are San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California at $106,100; Fairbanks, Alaska at $94,280; and Kankakee, Illinois at $93,420.

Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators. The national annual average salary is $55,280 for the estimated 402,870 workers in the field. Areas with the highest pay were New York-Newark-Jersey City, covering parts of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania at $96,440; Barnstable, Massachusetts at $93,620; and Santa Cruz-Watsonville, California at $93,320.

Since this story also looked specifically at the Iowa market, these jobs not requiring a college degree finished at the top of the list for that region: First place went to supervisors of nonretail sales workers. Second place was transportation, storage and distribution managers, and third place went to supervisors of police and detectives.

Have you met the Great Poodini?

Pitching a new onsite wastewater compliance program, environmental officials from the Auckland Council in New Zealand produced a video that could furnish Pumper readers on the other side of the globe with a great education tool. Click on this YouTube link and get to know The Great Poodini:

“Ladies, gentlemen, homeowners, I The Great Poodini, take great pleasure introducing the inescapable fecal containment device,” says the likable cartoon excrement as he is trapped in the septic tank. “I am locked inside, in the regulation manner … and I will now reveal not one, not two, but three methods of escape from the inescapable.”

Poodini goes on to show how wastewater emerges aboveground and ruins a septic system owner’s day. In this two-minute video, the Auckland Council talks about overuse of water leading to overflows, explains how baby wipes and harsh cleaning chemicals can cause harm and teaches about the importance of regular maintenance. It all leads to “a malodorous sensory assault and pongy (unpleasant) overflows,” says Poodini. 

The lighthearted video was produced to backstop stronger septic maintenance regulations and a two-year study to identify 45,000 septic systems in the region. The goal is to obtain maintenance records and curb contamination in the region’s waterways. 

If you have trouble conveying the basics of septic tank care to busy and distracted customers, this two-minute video may be a worthy share. 


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