Licensed to swill
The Environment Agency has found that many small or packaged WwTWs are inadequately maintained or serviced, and present an unacceptable risk of pollution. A new training course aims to address the problem. John Aldridge explains.If we need a gas fire installed, we go to a Corgi-qualified fitter. If we want a holiday, we pick an Abta-registered travel agent. If we need a house built, we look for a member of the NHBC.
Now, when we need a sewage system serviced, we can seek out a Swat - a Small Wastewater Accredited Technician.
A report by the Environment Agency (EA) said that many small WwTWs were inadequately maintained and serviced, and presented an unacceptable risk of pollution. Small (or packaged) WwTWs can be found in such locations as small hospitals, hotels, caravan parks, military installations, offices and factories, golf courses and private estates, or remote rural communities.
To address the problem, British Water has launched a two-pronged initiative to reduce the risk of pollution from badly designed and operated package treatment plants.
The EA had expressed concern that, in a very competitive market, plants were often undersized to achieve sales, some basic designs were producing poor performance, and there was rarely a regular maintenance policy.
British Water's Package Sewage Treatment Plant Focus Group first drafted a new Code of Practice on flows and loads to be used in the sizing of small WwTWs, which is endorsed by the three environmental protection agencies in UK. This was then followed by a code of practice for their maintenance, which includes training leading to accreditation.
The qualification is officially Package Sewage Treatment Plant Maintenance Course - Accredited Service Engineer, but that takes longer to say than Swat. And both instructors and engineers enjoy the implications of Swat.
It sounds like something out of James Bond, and there is a similarity. Our technicians often have to rush to the rescue of customers, if not with blazing guns, then with tool kits, suction tankers and hosepipes.
They have to work hard to get the certificate, too. And, since the course finishes with a tough exam, there is plenty of swotting going on. The two-day residential training course covers the regulations governing small WwTWs, the treatment processes that are in common use, engineering issues, fault-finding, health and safety, and sampling and testing.
At the end of the course, the technicians receive a photo-identity card and a certificate of competence. Their details are then included on British Water's web-based register of accredited service engineers, which can be searched by postcode to identify companies and service engineers in the customer's area.
More than 100 names are already there, and the vans that they use will soon carry a British Water sticker to confirm their qualified status.
It is not all over at the end of the course - technology, standards and design change in the waste industry as quickly as in any other, and we have to be sure that the technicians remain up to date. After three years on the register, they will need to take a refresher course and another exam if they want to retain their accreditation.
British Water members involved in waste management have all supported the scheme. Mike Butler, technical services manager of Tekserv, the servicing arm of Titan Pollution Control, comments: "We put all our technical staff through this course for two reasons. Firstly, we regard ourselves as setting the standards rather than following them. I was involved in developing this course, and I thought it was essential that
all our staff should achieve the standard required at the minimum entry level.
"Secondly, as a company, we want to demonstrate to customers and to the market that we are making sure that our engineers are totally competent in the job they do."
One Tekserv engineer who has completed the course is Andover-based Tony Allen, who found the course both enjoyable and useful.
"Tekserv has an intensive initial training course anyway," he says, "but I found this very helpful in reinforcing and recapping on what I'd already learned. I'm still fairly new to the job - I spent 22 years in the army as a mechanic - so I found the case histories really useful."
The teaching is classroom based, with slides illustrating different types of plant and situations. The case histories are used to give the engineers practice at fault diagnosis. The final exam is not designed to be easy, although that did not worry Tony Allen. "I scored 97%, though that's partly due to my initial training at Tekserv. I would certainly recommend the course to anyone, especially if their company doesn't have as good a training scheme as mine. It gives you the underlying knowledge to get out and fault-find on the plants we use."
Demand for courses is growing. They take place nationwide according to where the engineers are to be found, and can be arranged in-house if there are enough would-be Swats to make it practical. Six people are usually enough.
Several local authorities have got together to organise a course, for example. We have even reached the Isle of Man, which sent four people on a recent course.
At the moment the scheme is voluntary, but it is possible that the EA will make it compulsory in the future. It is certainly very supportive.
It is recommending that people check the engineer they are calling has qualified through the course.
Joanna Bradley, process technical advisor at the EA, says: "It's widely recognised that these plants can cause pollution of the water environment if they are not adequately maintained. It's also essential they're properly repaired in the event of a breakdown, to prevent a deterioration in the quality of the effluent."
Knowledge of the EA's Pollution prevention guidelines, PPG4 Treatment and Disposal of Sewage Where No Foul Sewer Is Available is a significant part of the accreditation course. Mike Norton, chairman of the Flows and Loads Focus Group, believes that training to this kind of standard is essential for the 21st century. "This qualification is part of our role to raise standards in the water industry. We must make organisations aware of the new higher level of service that's available. They no longer need to be satisfied with second best."
The water industry is aware that a properly serviced treatment plant is not a threat to the environment - a Swat-serviced plant is far superior to a septic tank.
Whether you need the services of a technician, or whether you are employing them, this accreditation scheme will help you to play your part in protecting the environment, and will also protect your conscience.
John Aldridge is commercial director at British Water.
T: 0207 957 455.