World Plumbing Council meets in Sydney

The World Plumbing Council came to Australia in March to not only discuss the importance of World Plumbing Day, but to discuss global plumbing initiatives in the face of changing social attitudes.

Led by chair Robert Burgon, a contingency of overseas council members from China to Canada, the United States, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, descended on the Menzies Hotel in the heart of Sydney.

It was 25 years since the first World Plumbing Conference in Sydney. “It was good to hold a meeting in Sydney some 25 years after the first World Plumbing Conference – effectively the stimulus for the creation of the World Plumbing Council,” Robert says.

“Australia and New Zealand have several members of the WPC and it is not always possible for representatives of these organisations to participate in our meetings. One goal of coming to Australia was to encourage these members to come to the meeting. I am delighted to say that this was achieved and we had strong participation from member organisations in these countries as well as representation from another 10 countries worldwide.”

Other than speaking about World Plumbing Day and the events hosted by participating nations, the three day event covered the importance of education and training, sustainability issues and plumbing for the future.

In attendance were host Paul Naylor, RK Somany founder of Hindustan Sanitaryware & Industries Ltd, the MPMSAA’s Ken Gardner, Plumbing Industry Commission’s Shayne Le Combre, MPGD’s Fiona Gavriel accompanied by two more of New Zealand’s finest John Simmiss and Ian Elliott of the PGDR ITO NZ, WPC director Blane Judd, WPC deputy chairman Russ Chaney, the Indian Plumbing Association’s Sudhakaran Nair (also a WPC director), Rich Prospal representing the ASSE, WPC director Hua Mingjiu, WPC Secretariat Stephen Movley and Murray Thomas from the MP&GA WA.

Once World Plumbing Day discussions were out of the way, it was down to the business of the WPC Strategic Plan.

The first point of this agenda was to discuss an update on research being conducted by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. There are several projects on the go including the development of a device to identify depleted trap seals. This would be a commercial tool with great benefit to hospitals. Two other projects were discussed:
1. Predictions of rainwater patterns and impact on drainage.
2. Climate change effects on traditional and siphonic systems, should predictions of warmer but wetter winters and dryer summers come to pass.

Though results are two to three years away, it is important to follow the research as it progresses and keep the plumbing community posted on its findings. In fact, the WPC after being criticised for not posting enough technical information on its website will make a concerted effort to post research papers written by the CIB W62 International Symposium. This will extend to other researchers who will be invited to prepare short technical pieces on their areas of expertise.

Some interesting discussions about training, research and education followed, including the problem of fast track education and its impact on the industry. In the UK in particular, it seems people are paying a lot of money for fast tracked plumbing qualifications that are unrecognised by the industry. Any plumber would know, that a four year learning course is necessary to be fully qualified, however fast track qualifications driven by commercial interests and not-stopped by government are not only providing qualification problems, but are discrediting the industry as people are graduating with a lack of knowledge and skills required to carry out some fundamental plumbing work.

The WPC hopes to see consistent training worldwide and establish guidelines in training and resources for countries where resources are lacking. The WPC also hopes to establish a training regimen for the trainers and educators, so that they too are kept up to date with the latest techniques, skills and technologies.

The question here is who can fund the upskilling of trainers? The other question raised was the role of the plumber. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has written in the Health Aspects of Plumbing document: Plumbers are trained to design, install and maintain plumbing systems. However, the work of plumbers goes beyond the provision of plumbing systems; they must manage the risks associated with plumbing installations. They share this risk management role with public health officials. Finally, in a world that is now increasingly aware of the value of natural resources, plumbers and other plumbing professionals play a vital role in water conservation.

WHO and WPC share a special working relationship and WPC’s John McBride was seconded to work in Geneva (but ended up working in Melbourne) on several combined projects. The most significant was work on a document entitled Regulation of Plumbing Work which looked at the regulation of plumbing as a risk management tool.

Unfortunately the document is yet to be published by WHO as it was turned into a Key Issues paper which is yet to be formatted. Calls by the WPC will see it added to their online resources in the near future.

The paper developed a range of definitions for plumbing terms, most of which have been published. The paper is to be used in the WHO network at a level where regulators sit, to get the messages across to the regulating bodies.

The second of the more interesting points was what to do with the WPC Scholarship. Previous recipient, Benny Wielandt, who visited Thailand, provided an excellent report on plumbing in that country. However what is the direct benefit to the WPC and plumbing in general?

Talk of scrapping the scholarship was short lived, however, as members of the WPC voted to keep it in place and create an Education and Training Scholarship.

Discussion moved from training and education to plumbing’s response in a crisis. Robert explained that the binds put on plumbers by WHO were necessary, however plumbers do have a role to play. While it is unfortunate that those looking after the crises are made up of mainly water supply engineers from water bodies and not plumbers, it was suggested that perhaps a scholarship or award be implemented whereby skilled people can be sent to help with the blessing of WHO and WPC.

Other points of interest to come out of the conference were the opening of the Global Water Institute in October 2010, the Environmental Aspects of Plumbing Project for which it is envisioned that a public statement about health aspects are made on a biennial basis, a work program to identify someone to write a water safety plan from source to use, the creation of a panel to discuss problems and provide practical expertise, the creation of a multi-media training package, a proposed WPC membership recruitment campaign and a report by Russ Chaney on the WPC website.

The final day’s presentations were conducted by Paul Naylor, Murray Thomas and Sydney Water’s Les Barnard, who gave a stirring review of what is currently happening with AsFlow and dry drains studies.

Paul and Murray gave an encouraging presentation about training, on the job assessment, group training, a skills tracker program, proper simulation techniques and a non-government based apprentice system that could have far reaching effects for the industry and provide great benefits to students coming through. Plumbing Connection will report on this matter fully in coming issues. They also touted the benefits of starting an interactive website whereby knowledge can be shared among the fraternity, rather than being exclusive to government run bodies.

Paul finished his section by giving an inspiring presentation on the growth of skills and training in Fiji.

All in all, the conference provided a successful and interesting insight into the world of plumbing and its future.

“I believe that the overall view from the meeting is that WPC is making real progress – World Plumbing Day is an example of such progress,” Robert says. “We continue to pursue a number of issues identified in the Strategic Plan set by the Executive Board for 2008-2011. For example, the meeting recognised the importance of education and training and received a progress report from a small group which is looking into the role of WPC in that area. It was agreed to investigate the creation of a category of membership for training organisations and this will be pursued prior to our next meeting.”

The second meeting of the WPC in 2010 will take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 13-15 October and we hope to see representatives of our Australian and New Zealand members at that meeting.

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