Proper Execution Key To Success of Maintenance Programs

June 1, 2002
Professionals in the wastewater industry are working to prolong the life of an aging sewer infrastructure in the United States. The alternative is one that no agency can afford - replacement of large portions of the system.

By James H. Forbes, Jr., P.E.,
Robert C. Miller
Tracy Favre, P.E.

Professionals in the wastewater industry are working to prolong the life of an aging sewer infrastructure in the United States. The alternative is one that no agency can afford - replacement of large portions of the system.

Most wastewater superintendents today will tell you that budgets are tight. At the same time that sewers need significant investment, managers are faced with difficult choices about budget cuts. Frequently, pressure exists to make do with less. Rate increases are usually unpopular, especially in today's slow moving economy, and collection and treatment costs do not typically go down with the passing years.

An obvious and common choice is to reduce or eliminate costs for outside consultants by bringing tasks like flow monitoring, line cleaning, inspection and manhole repair in house.

None of these tasks are beyond the capabilities of many wastewater personnel. However, frequently training is limited. Many times the only training maintenance personnel receive is a single demonstration of the product, equipment or software at the time of delivery. On-going training or supervision is next to non-existent due to the fact that budget cuts have left many maintenance departments with a skeleton staff. To top everything else, turn-over in wastewater maintenance crews may be very high. In some instances, the personnel that received even the limited training provided during delivery are gone after a period of time with no departmental memory of the product's or program's operation or function.

So, crews performing maintenance on the sewers are often third generation trained and have no on-going review of their results. But the assumption is made that because the equipment is in use and/or data is being collected for entry into the database (with no determination of the correctness of that data), a program is on track. However, at some point the lack of effectiveness of the program becomes obvious, sometimes rather dramatically as when a sewer line collapses or a blockage causes basement flooding.

Quality Assurance, Quality Control

Program review and oversight are critical components of successful maintenance operations. The key is to not assume that just because work is being performed that it is being performed correctly. It is important to make sure that the program's implementation is reviewed on a routine basis. Is the data that is being collected accurate? Is it being used as intended? Maintenance programs are evolving organisms that require course correction and tweaking as time goes by. Implementation of a quality assurance/quality control program as an integral part of a maintenance program can offer an opportunity to make course corrections as needed to ensure that maintenance programs continue to be effective.

Briefly defined, quality assurance is a planned set of external activities to evaluate data quality that are implemented by personnel who are not directly involved in the original data collection. Examples are:

  • Auditing quality control procedures;
  • Identifying the type and frequency of QC checks;
  • Developing procedures to be used to ensure data quality; and
  • Identifying responsibility for ensuring data quality.

These activities could be performed by management personnel or a steering committee set up for this purpose. Once the initial evaluation of the procedures has been completed, annual review may be sufficient.

Quality control is a planned set of internal activities that are conducted by the project personnel to ensure data accuracy and completeness. These activities include the use of:

  • Data checking procedures;
  • Technical reviews;
  • Accuracy checks; and
  • Approved standardized procedures for calculations.
  • Random inspections of field procedures.

These internal activities are designed to provide the first level of quality checking and should be included at all stages of a maintenance program including planning, data collection, data analysis, calculation, and reporting. Additionally, comparing results to previously developed or similar reports and/or data to assess reasonableness and using checklists from equipment or software providers can provide additional levels of accuracy. Tasks such as these could be performed by maintenance supervisors and should be a regular part of maintenance activities, with customized procedures for each part of the maintenance program.

Training Is Critical

On-going training is also clearly critical to a program's success. The quality of work performed by crews in the field is the cornerstone on which the remainder of the program is built. As the saying goes, "Garbage in - garbage out". Inaccurate data input into a software maintenance program is less valuable than the paper form on which it was written. A sewer line that has been cleaned improperly will not perform up to design expectations. And just because the maintenance management database shows that the line was cleaned every 12 months does not necessarily mean that the line is clean if inadequate cleaning was performed. Understanding that training is an investment in the future of a maintenance program is one of the first steps in ensuring that program's success.

Certification programs for field personnel are becoming more popular today. The objective of these programs is typically to establish consistency or a "calibrated eye" in field personnel. Because maintenance programs rely heavily on observations from field personnel, certification programs can offer a way of ensuring that information gathered by various individuals within the organization is consistent. Further, by requiring field personnel to pursue some sort of certification for their chosen field, a municipality can encourage longevity in field inspection positions by offering an opportunity for professional development and career advancement.

As one example, in the field of TV inspection there is a move to develop a national certification program for TV operators. This program, spearheaded by NASSCO among others, could provide a certain level of assurance to municipalities that operators performing TV inspection are using consistent standards for pipe condition assessment.

A "clean" line with roots can still cause significant maintenance problems such as surcharging and overflows. Line cleaning following by CCTV may discover other problems.
Click here to enlarge image

At a recent annual meeting for NASSCO, a draft version of a Level 1 Pipeline Assessment Certification Training Program was presented. The proposed certification program would address such issues as the causes of sewer line deterioration, camera operations, pipeline condition categorization, inspection forms and reporting requirements. The obvious benefit to such a certification program is that operators completing the program will have been trained to a consistent standard.

Having proper equipment and trained personnel is but the initial investment. Maintaining and updating the equipment (or program) and retaining trained personnel in office and field staffs is the longer term investment. Long range planning and associated funding of these plans is critical to success, and very often difficult to achieve.

CMOM May Change Things

It is possible that the anticipated roll-out of the EPA's Capacity, Management, Operation and Maintenance (CMOM) program will offer utilities an opportunity to review their maintenance programs with an objective eye. On January 30, 2002, EPA released a proposed program checklist that could be used as a tool by small and medium-sized utilities to help them prepare to implement the CMOM program. The checklist was designed to help them assess their current strengths and weaknesses. Further, as part of annual CMOM self-audits, utilities will be required to review and report on programs within the wastewater department; from the way customer complaints are handled, to what kind of training crews receive to how routine maintenance is performed. A regular review of procedures could have the impact of increasing the chances for training and evaluation of maintenance programs.

About the Authors

James H. Forbes, Jr., P.E., is a Vice President with Severn Trent Services. He's been the project manager on over 250 sewer system condition assessment projects over the course of his 25 years in the industry.

Robert C. Miller is a District Manager for Severn Trent Services and has more than 20 years of continuous experience in the sewer inspection and rehabilitation industry. As a owner of Specialty Sewers Services, Inc., Mr. Miller helped develop fiber optic TV inspection systems capable of inspecting large diameter pipes up to 10,000 feet. Specialty Sewers, Inc. was acquired by Severn Trent Services in 1998.

Tracy Favre, P.E., is Director of Marketing for Severn Trent's Pipeline Services group. She has over 15 years of experience in the wastewater industry.

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