Good practice guidance launched for the safe use of suction/vacuum excavators


The Suction and Vacuum Excavator (SAVE) Special Interest Group has launched a Good Practice Guide for the Safe Use of Suction/Vacuum Excavators. The comprehensive 84-page publication is available to download for free from the Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA) website.

Suction/Vacuum Excavators have become commonplace in the construction and utilities sectors in recent years to carry out excavations around buried services and other sensitive areas but in July 2015, a tragic accident resulted in the death of an operator of a truck-mounted unit. This highlighted the need to define common operational standards and the management of Suction and Vacuum Excavator operations.

The SAVE Special Interest Group was subsequently formed with the intention of establishing common operational standards for use with Suction/Vacuum Excavators. Managed by the CPA, it comprises representatives from owners, users, manufacturers and clients, as well as the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and CITB, with the Group’s first task being the production of a Good Practice Guide for the safe use of these types of equipment.

Topics covered in the Good Practice Guide include:

  • Personnel, training and certification;
  • Management of the operation and the selection of machines;
  • Travelling to and from sites, arrival and setting up;
  • Carrying out excavation activity including the use of ground engaging tools;
  • Dealing with blockages and other emergency procedures;
  • Leaving sites and movement of waste requirements.

The publication provides specific recommendations around lone working, the use of a second operator and other supporting staff, and information relating to contaminated ground containing radioactive waste. Other additions to the guidance include clean-up procedures that should be followed when hazardous materials – particularly asbestos-based materials – are drawn into a machine. Further annex sections relay additional information on areas such as daily and weekly checks, procedures for working at height, the use of red diesel on the public highway and the transporting of waste.

As with all CPA-managed Good Practice Guides, the publication aims to educate owners, operators, hirers, contractors, clients, trainers and maintenance staff on the nature, operational practices and safe working requirements of these types of equipment. The SAVE Special Interest Group’s work on producing the safe use guidance has been recognised by the HSE as part of the ‘Helping Great Britain Work Well’ initiative that demonstrates how sectors can act together to collectively promote health and safety issues. The Special Interest Group’s next task is to produce a comprehensive supplementary publication on the handling and dealing of a wide range of hazardous materials that are frequently encountered by Suction/Vacuum Excavation operations.

Pat Burke, Managing Director of Force One Limited and Chair of the SAVE Special Interest Group commented: “Following the tragic accident, it was heartening that owners, hirers, contractors, clients and the HSE came together to form the Special Interest Group and collectively aim to raise safety standards through this Good Practice Guide. I thank the group for their time, energy and commitment in producing this publication, which is the first of a number that we aim to devise.

“To endorse our commitment to relaying the safety message for the safe use of Suction/Vacuum Excavators, we’ve allowed the publication to be available free of charge. I encourage all those involved with Suction/Vacuum Excavator operations to note and follow our recommendations,” he continued.

The Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA) is the leading trade association for the plant hire sector in the UK. The CPA has 1,600 members, who supply 85% of hired plant to the construction industry. The organisation is the UK’s principal point of contact for all issues relating to the use of construction plant.

The CPA works with government departments and agencies, local authorities, construction clients, private companies, other trade associations, and third sector organisations, on issues including employee health and safety, machinery standards and emissions control, public safety and road transport, skills and employment. The CPA publishes a wide range of guidance documents which are distributed widely throughout the construction industry and many are available for immediate free download from the CPA website. The CPA supports a number of Special Interest Groups, which tackle issues within specialist sectors.