Homeowner Education is the Key to Lid Safety

When a local child nearly fell into a septic tank, Illinois pumper Cary Zeschke began reaching out to identify septic tank dangers

Homeowner Education is the Key to Lid Safety

Interested in Safety?

Get Safety articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Safety + Get Alerts

In September 2023, pumper Cary Zeschke received what appeared to be a routine call from a customer asking if he sold septic tank lids. But when the guy went on to explain why he needed it, Zeschke was horrified. The man’s wife and three-year-old had walked over to the neighbor’s house and the child stepped on top of a lid and it broke. At first Zeschke was under the impression the child fell into the tank seven feet in the ground but eventually learned the lid had wedged itself in enough to hold the child.

Every pumper knows each year children – and adults – fall into septic tanks and die. But when it happens in your neighborhood, it really hits home. Zeschke was inspired to step up his efforts to educate homeowners about the dangers.

Zeschke is the owner of Zeschke Septic Cleaning in Bloomington, Illinois, which provides septic pumping, grease trap maintenance, and lagoon and manhole cleanouts. He operates the company with his staff of four, including two full-time pumpers.

Pumper: Did you follow up with the homeowners?

Zeschke: The guy picked up the lid, and I told him that if he had other lids, he ought to replace all of them. He said they had three more but he chose to just do the one. I also called and talked to his wife. She did not understand what could have happened. So I explained, “Do you realize how lucky you were that that lid prevented him falling all the way into the tank? Once someone falls in a tank, they have to tread because it’s four feet of water and there’s only a foot between the top of the tank and the water level. And there’s nothing to hold onto.”

Pumper: What else did you do?

Zeschke: We had done some service with the neighbor next door, so I also called them to tell them to replace their lids. And I got in touch with one of the board members and she is going to bring it up at their annual HOA meeting. They’re going to have us come out and do a presentation.

We will tell them that we can either go around and inspect lids and replace them if needed or tell homeowners they can buy lids and replace them because there are a lot of kids running around these neighborhoods. And I told her that we can get inserts to put inside the plastic riser. It’s basically a plastic net you put down a foot or so in the riser and screw it to the sides so if somebody falls through they’ll fall on that.

I also went to the health department trying to find out where other HOAs are and how to contact them. What I’ve found so far is that it’s hard to do. The health department tried to help me but didn’t come up with anything. We know a few HOAs so we’re going to figure out how to contact the president or someone on the board. They’re hard to get a hold of because those are all voluntary positions.

Pumper: How did the media get involved?

Zeschke: Coincidentally, it was Septic Safety Week and we got a call from Illinois State University from some students in the broadcasting school asking if they could interview us for the college TV station. We showed them a riser and how that works and all the safety things to look for when you’re doing these jobs. And a local radio station emailed me about Septic Safety Week and we talked about doing something on their station, which I hope they’ll have us do.

Pumper: What is the scope of the problem in your area?

Zeschke: There are numerous subdivisions in our county that have this same situation where the tanks were installed prior to the homes being built. The lots were empty for quite a while before the houses were even built. The lids were on the ground and they were getting mowed by a farm tractor with a pull-behind lawn mower, or a bat-wing ditch mower. A lot of the lids got run over and chopped up. I remember going out there before the houses were built and you could see wide-open holes because lids had gotten hit by a lawn mower.

Pumper: How can you tell a lid is bad?

Zeschke: The fiberglass and plastic lids become super faded. You can see stress cracks just from the sun. If PVC is just sitting out in the sun it becomes brittle. Sometimes we’ll see the screws have been removed. We always carry extra screws on the truck.

Pumper: How have your procedures changed over the years because of this danger?

Zeschke: When we install risers, before we became more aware of this kind of situation, we would put an 18-inch (ribbed culvert) tile riser around the 18-inch hole, bring it to ground level, put a lid on it and be done. And you had to take the tank lid off to do this. We quit doing that years ago. Now we put a 24-inch riser around the 18-inch lid and we leave the lid on the tank. So if somebody broke through, they’re just going to fall on top of the tank and not fall in it because the tank lid is still on.

Pumper: Besides implementing this procedure what advice do you have for other contractors?

Zeschke: If they’re not doing it this way, I would definitely suggest installing the interior plastic safety nets. And if you come across something unsafe, tell the homeowners, take pictures of it, and state it on your invoice.

Even before this incident, we contacted HOAs, telling them they need to address this issue. It’s something we’ve talked about for years. Being in business for 21 years and reading these articles, I figured it would only be a matter of time before something would happen. It’s just a ticking time bomb.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.