Direct365: staying safe when working with pumps

However long you might have worked in your facility, when it comes to safety in the workplace, it’s always worth going back to the basics.
However long you might have worked in your facility, when it comes to safety in the workplace, it’s always worth going back to the basics.

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To the untrained eye, a water pump appears to be far less dangerous than more explicitly perilous machinery that you may find in saw mills or slaughter houses. However, when managed incorrectly, pumps can often be just as dangerous.

The main cause of these accidents isn’t necessarily new employees or fresh-faced engineering graduates. It’s the people that have been working in pumping facilities for years that tend to become more lax with their safety precautions as time goes on, and the consequences are sometimes tragic.

However long you might have worked in your facility, it’s always worth going back to the basics. Innovations in pumping make it more and more difficult to keep up-to-date with the appropriate safety measures that should be taken alongside them. We’ve compiled a few tips to prepare those new to the industry, and refresh those who may have become set in their ways.


Any pump specialist will know that pumps need to ventilate in some form or another in order to keep them from overheating. Therefore, it’s imperative that the location of your pumps is planned to accommodate for adequate ventilation, and to prevent fire hazards. This means that any non-submersible pumps must be positioned at least three feet away from nearby walls and other equipment.

It’s also worth noting that the exhaust from a water pump contains carbon monoxide, a poisonous odourless gas that occurs as a by-product of an incomplete chemical reaction. It is typically associated with engines that use fossil fuels, so any engine-driven pumps are potentially dangerous in an enclosed setting.

Therefore, ensure that all engine-driven pumps are operated in a large space, with plenty of ventilation allowing airflow through the facility.


Operating with the suction or discharge closed is one of the primary causes of water pumps overheating. In order to prevent a pump from becoming dangerous - as well as to increase its lifespan - check the suction strainer regularly in order to ensure that it is not clogged, as operating a pump with blocked suction can cause severe over-heating. You should always make sure that the pump has enough ventilation to allow the engine to cool.

However, some pumps (particularly older models) will have a tendency to overheat every now and again without an immediately diagnosable cause. In these situations, the first thing a pump operator MUST do is stop overheated pumps immediately, and leave them to cool.

Overheated pumps get hot enough to cause severe burns and injury to operators that come into physical contact with them, so stay away from an overheated pump until it has finally cooled to air temperature. This could take as long as two or three hours, depending on the size of the pump and how hot it has become during overheating.

When operators are confident that a water pump has cooled, they should slowly vent the pump at the drain plug. Do not under any circumstances remove the cover plate, gauge port plug, fill port cap or drain plug while a pump is overheated. This endangers not only the life of the operator carrying out the ventilation, but also the lives of others in the surrounding area.

Pump types

With various types of pump in operation, there are a range of dangers specific to each. It’s important to know what you’re dealing with, especially if you are new to a facility, so operators that are unsure in any way should consult a manager to double-check the pump type.


Engine-driven pumps tend to be older models, so one of the main dangers comes from long-term erosion to the machinery that could cause oil or fuel leaks. For this reason, engine-driven pumps need to be regularly serviced to ensure operators are as safe as possible in their proximity.

Care needs to be taken when refuelling engine-driven pumps. It’s important that you don’t overfill the fuel tank, and that you NEVER refill a fuel tank while an engine is still running or even if it’s still hot. Before conducting any maintenance to the engine or to the pump itself, always disconnect the spark plug. This minimises the risk of sudden engine ignition during maintenance.

High-head engine pumps contain a great deal of pressure, so it’s important to remember not to shut them down too quickly. Instead, throttle back the engine slowly to reduce the flow of the pump before opening the bypass line.

Electric motor

Electric motor-driven pumps must be properly grounded to minimise the risk of electrocution to employees.

These pumps can potentially blow out a circuit if they aren’t installed correctly. Pump station operators have a duty to ensure that all electrical installations are in accordance with the national electrical codes of your country, as well as local regulations. Varying regions will have different statutory regulations on what grounding a circuit needs and how receptacles should be appropriately outfitted to maximise employee safety.

Ensuring proper installation is as simple as employing qualified personnel to wire and operate all electric motor-driven pumps.

With this in mind, make sure that you connect your electric motor to the correct phase (usually two or three-phase) as well as checking the appropriate voltage. If the voltage is not within the defined limits of the local receptacle, do not operate the pump.

If an operator needs to perform maintenance on an electric motor-driven pump, it’s imperative that all related electrical circuits are shut down and locked out. Similarly, if a circuit breaker is tripped during the operation of the motor, have an electrician locate and fix the problem before restarting the pump.


Submersible pumps in general are much safer to operate than other pumps because they tend to be completely enclosed and non-ventilated to prevent water from coming into contact with any part of the electrical circuit. However, there are certain measures that should be taken by anyone operating a submersible pump.

Like electric motor-driven pumps, you’ll need to make sure that all submersible pumps are connected to the correct phase and voltage before starting them up. Make sure you also shut down and lock out any related electrical circuit before performing maintenance, in order to prevent a fuse from being tripped.

Most importantly, operators should never attempt to raise a pump by its electrical cord, as they run the risk of severe electrocution.

Personal safety

Besides the physical operation of pumps at a pump station, employees can take commonplace preventative measures to ensure their personal safety and wellbeing in and around the workplace.

Ensure that you are wearing the right apparel while you are working onsite. Do not wear loose clothing around machinery, whether or not it is in operation. Make sure you wear insulated gloves in order to provide extra protection when doing maintenance work on electrically powered pumps, as well as a protective helmet.

If you work on, or are visiting a pumping station that works with sewage, make sure you cover all cuts - however small - with an impermeable plaster. Failing to cover these scratches leaves you at risk to Weil’s disease, a serious (and sometimes fatal) infection that is transmitted to humans by contact with sewage, either through cuts in the skin or through the lining of the eyes or mouth. Any cuts onsite should be immediately treated with antiseptic, cotton wool and a waterproof plaster.

Do not handle any food or drink without first washing your hands as a precaution.

If you need to perform maintenance on a pump that has recently been in operation, approach it with caution. Water pumps have been known to explode in the past, so give machinery a wide berth - especially if it is particularly prone to overheating -

Take breaks to ensure that you aren’t operating a pump while you are overly tired or malnourished. Operators need to be sharp to keep themselves and others safe during maintenance work.

Accidents do happen, so make sure your facility is equipped with a medical station with a defibrillator in order to be prepared for more serious incidents, and ensure a member of staff is fully trained in first-aid.

Food for thought

Staying safe in the workplace is so important, especially when working in a pumping facility. Operators are relied on to be smart about the way they work, whether that’s quickly solving problems with the pumps, optimising the pumping potential of individual terminals, or diagnosing potential future issues in order to enforce preventative measures.

Health and safety at work is just that: seeing the potential problems caused in the working environment and working together to ensure they don’t occur. Reducing the number of accidents in pumping facilities improves the effectiveness of that facility and helps employees feel more secure in their every day.  

Author: Kristin Hodgkinson works for Direct365, a company who specialise in supporting the workplace when it comes to facility management, supplies and being environmentally friendly. Be it recycling or waste collection, Direct 365 can help businesses of all sizes.

The digital edition of the magazine is distributed free of charge to readers who meet our qualifying criteria. You can apply to receive your free copy by completing this short registration form.