What's In the Pipeline 

Please excuse the pun but there is, potentially, much going on in the world of drain and sewer maintenance which should not be ignored by those responsible for new works.

The highest profile probably belongs to the current consultations regarding the transfer of private drains and sewers to the water companies but the industry itself is looking to introduce a card registration scheme to acknowledge the competency of drainage operatives.

The consultation as to how the transfer of private drains and sewers will be made has now been completed and the government has to decide if any secondary legislation is required and what amendments are needed to the relevant regulations. For obvious reasons no date has yet been fixed for the transfer but the sector is pressing for sufficient notice to be given for efficient planning on both sides of the industry.

 It is predicted that when the water industry take over the responsibility for private sewers and lateral drains, they will continue to use contractors rather than take the labour back in-house. This would fit with most water companies’ policy on the clean water side.

Contractors currently working within the private drainage environment have identified that they need a way of ensuring to the water industry and their customers that they have a competent, skilled workforce. Dyno-Rod, a subsidiary of Centrica Plc, was one of the main instigators of this project.

 A National Scheme to recognise a competent workforce within the industry is long overdue. We are subjected to a plethora of individual cards for health and safety training but there is currently no mechanism available to recognise competent drainage operatives. There is not even a benchmark against which to assess a competent operative.

 For the past seven months, a group made up of Water Companies, Trade Associations and training providers has been working at developing a Registration Scheme to allow just that. Energy & Utility Skills, the Sector Skills Council for the electricity, gas, waste management and water industries, was approached to develop a Scheme on their behalf.

It was recognised that operatives working within the drainage industry may have formal and/or work related experience giving them the competencies to carry out wide ranging tasks associated with the maintenance and operation of the many types of drainage systems. In addition, the formal training available to these operatives can be as individual and varied as the employer requires. The group therefore identified various key roles that exist within the drainage industry and investigated the underpinning skills that would allow the individual to operate at an effective level. This is both in terms of operational techniques and health and safety issues.

We are not looking to redesign the wheel. Recognised certification for health and safety, units for the New Roads & Streetworks Act, water jetting, pipe condition classification etc. will be recognised within the appropriate discipline. 

The proposed Scheme would allow individuals to be assessed against a National Occupational Standard. Companies would also be able to align their own in-house training schemes against the standard and those which met the requirements could be endorsed and be a recognised part of the Registration Scheme. This would allow a flexible approach to training and assessment.

As well as the general need for training to ensure that an operator has the skills to carry out the tasks required of him, the enhanced self esteem of being competent in that work is a strong driver. The provision of training and certification should never be overlooked as an aid to a motivated and settled workforce.

The drainage scheme is initially focused on two key employment roles:

Drainage operative


Registration will enable individuals in these roles to demonstrate competence against health and safety requirements. Progression to a more complex skilled role would require further training and assessment in the relevant discipline. 


Skilled Operative


This is a more complex, skilled role. Further training and assessment could allow individuals to work in any of the following roles:


·        High Pressure Water Jetting

·        CCTV

·        No-dig repairs

·        Electrical/ Mechanical clearance

·        Excavation

·        Drain Clearance

·        General Sewer maintenance. 

These are some examples of skills that are needed for the various roles and are in no way exhaustive. The project has focussed on the maintenance side of the industry but it is well known that the water companies have serious concerns over the standard of work in the laying of new pipes. It is intended that a module will be produced for this work in due course.

Each card would indicate the competency of the individual operator and should replace the need for producing a volume of copy training certificates pre-contract. The register would also allow customers e.g. water companies, commercial organisations such as facilities management companies etc. to identify a company with a competent workforce and check the validity of operator cards.

And there is more; The Manual of Sewer Defect Classification – Edition 4 (The National equivalent of BS13508: Part 2), the bible as far as cctv inspections are concerned, may be subject to revision pending a review at European level.

More information regarding the registration scheme can be obtained from Energy & Utility Skills, Friars Gate, 1011 Stratford Road, Shirley, Solihull, B90 4BN (Tel: 0845 077 9922).