Contributed by: Chapman Hancock, Ditch Witch Product Manager, Vacuum Excavation
Featured in: dp-PRO
Today’s vacuum excavation manufacturers are designing smarter and safer truck vacuum excavators to help owners and operators meet evolving federal, state and local regulations. These regulations are in place to keep everyone safe, maintain the structural integrity of our roads and bridges, and protect the surrounding environment and water supply.
Meeting regulations is becoming easier as truck technology advances with offerings like the addition of onboard computers, improved suspension, baffles and remote boom operation.
Managing Truck Vac Challenges
Managing weight is one of the greatest challenges truck vac owners and drivers face. Without mindful consideration, it’s possible to leave drilling jobsites overloaded, due to heavy tanks and contents, which can result in consequences relating to safety, truck health, our environment and infrastructure.
Other truck vac challenges include responsibly handling spoils as they’re transported from jobsites to certified dumping areas. It’s essential to understand transportation and dumping rules and regulations, along with safety standards, to avoid pricy penalties and do your part in leaving roadways and the environment how you found them.
Department of Transportation Regulations
When it comes to federal regulations that impact truck vac drivers and owners, the Department of Transportation (DOT) sets guidelines for maintaining road, bridge and driver safety. The DOT enforces these regulations with trained officers who identify overweight or otherwise illegal trucks.
All truck vac drivers are expected to know federal, state and local laws. Keep in mind, sometimes state regulations are different than federal, so it’s important to be aware of which laws impact you and your crew. By familiarizing yourself with the rules, you will stay safe and avoid paying potentially costly fines and getting shut down.
If you are pulled over and violating any mandates, it’s likely you’ll face hefty fines and, in some regions, an additional base fine plus a dollar amount for every pound overweight.
Federal Bridge Law
The DOT’s federal bridge law stands out as one drivers frequently deal with, so it’s definitely worth knowing. The law includes several steps to ensure you aren’t driving a truck heavier than a bridge or road can withstand and is based on an equation that measures truck, trailer and truck plus trailer weight.
W = 500 [LN/L-1 + 12N + 36]
Here, W equals the overall gross weight on two or more consecutive axles to the nearest 500 pounds. L equals the distance in feet between the outer axles of a group of two or more consecutive axles. And N equals the number of axles in a group. Memorizing this formula will help ensure you’re safe and operating within the law.
For additional information and increased knowledge of the formula and the calculations needed for accurately measuring weight, refer to the DOT’s Permissible Gross Loads for Vehicles in Regular Operation chart.
To help meet more specific regulations like the federal bridge law, newer trucks offer improved suspension technology with real-time pressure monitors. This technology allows axles to read and adjust for the weight transfer when a truck vac has liquid moving from the front to the back in the tank. With an automatic air system, pressure is applied in real time to even out the load, increasing safety and truck efficiency.
Simplifying the weight calculation process helps make life easier on drivers so they can stay within regulation. That’s why truck vac technology offers an alternative to manual weight calculation with the inclusion of onboard weight systems. These systems calculate overall vehicle weight and axle weight breakdowns by automatically translating pounds per square inch (PSI) to truck weight in pounds. They also include pressure gauges that correspond with easy-to-read charts.
Dumping and Environmental Regulations
Federal DOT regulations sometimes differ from state and local mandates; similarly, environmental concerns may also vary. Federal and state requirements are monitored and enforced to maintain the natural state of the environment.
Laws and regulations on the dumping of spoils are in place due to the situations in which the spoils may become contaminated. To keep surrounding ecosystems and local water supplies clean, and avoid penalties, it’s important to understand where and how to properly dispose of drilling spoils.
First, vac spoil classifications need to be understood. Vac spoils are differentiated as dry or wet, which is determined by the paint filter test. If spoils fail the test, they’re considered wet spoils, which are typically more difficult and costlier to discard, because they have liquid runoff that doesn’t stay put when dumped. The three most common types of wet spoils are excavation spoils, horizontal directional drilling mud and oilfield mud.
It’s your responsibility to determine if you’re handling contaminated spoils. Whenever liquids are introduced to mud or drilling fluid, the mixture is considered contaminated until proven otherwise through testing. Meanwhile, dry spoils are deemed contaminated as soon as they leave the jobsite and must also be tested.
After leaving a jobsite, the above spoils are transported by a truck vac and dumped in certified sites. These sites typically accept walk-ins and charge dumping fees that vary regionally. In highly populated areas, dumping costs tend to be higher, depending on volume and type of waste. Dumping in these areas is more challenging because drivers may have to travel long distances dump waste, which increases the time and costs associated with excavations.
Cities and states have different regulations for potholing and dumping, so it’s in your best interest to have a clear understanding of what these are and how they impact your teams. You can locate these regulations by searching your city and state websites.
Once you’re finished working on a jobsite, state and local regulations require you to refill potholes created during this process, which means you must come prepared to jobsites with a plan and materials to fill the holes. Most teams bring additional materials like sand or dirt to jobsites to fill holes, but if the hole is on a roadway, you must ensure your repairs comply with DOT standards.
Truck Vac Innovations Are Evolving
As safety trends evolve, truck vac manufacturers are doing what they can to build trucks that meet the configurations and safety needs of today’s workers. Inside the trucks, baffles in high-volume water tanks are designed to reduce sloshing, which occurs as liquid moves during transport. On the outside, trucks are equipped with remote power booms, which reduce operator strain and make work more accurate and safe.
Whether it’s on-board weight systems or new suspension technology, trucks are advancing to keep up with jobsite demands and improve driver safety. Although these trucks come with higher price tags, their capabilities often save drivers thousands in efficiencies, performance and uptime. With these savings, it can become easy to justify the expense of a new truck.