Backflow Prevention in the everyday world

Backflow Prevention in the everyday world

Peter McLennan reflects on the recent World Plumbing Day and asks some questions of the industry and the continual lack of education, at the apprenticeship stage, in backflow prevention.

I recently attended the World Plumbing Day breakfast hosted by the Master Plumbers’ Association of Queensland. The event has undoubtedly become one of the plumbing industry’s ‘must attend’ functions of the year. Penny Cornah, the executive director and her team work hard on the smallest of details to ensure the day is relevant and informative for all in attendance.

With over 350 people in attendance, including the Queensland Premier and a number of her Ministers, opposition politicians, union officials and VIPs, the breakfast continued to promote the message that a plumber is not just a tradesperson but a frontline health professional.

Can someone tell me then, why we still don’t have a mandatory national continuing professional development programme for plumbers?

Other front line health professionals must regularly take steps to ensure their skills are kept up-to-date so when you consider a plumber can hold a license for 30 years and have no mandatory requirement to upskill, the image of a professional is shattered.

Now relate this to backflow prevention and cross connection control. Backflow is a result of a cross connection in the drinking water supply system. This is usually within a private piping system whereby the owner unknowingly connects the drinking water to a contaminant, most likely to be a hose type connection.
As a layman, the concept of cross connection control and backflow prevention is something I assume every plumber understands, so I find it reprehensible that the plumbing apprenticeship only refers to backflow prevention in a module related to irrigation. It is referenced in only one module during a four year apprenticeship.

We are talking about something that has the potential to cause death should a backflow incident occur when hazardous substances are mixed with drinking water.

I applaud the forward thinking regulators in each state that introduced the requirement for plumbers to hold an endorsement to their plumbing license for testing and servicing backflow prevention devices, but we must ensure the tradesperson’s skill is current and relevant to today.

Queensland has legislated that the backflow tester must revalidate his backflow prevention endorsement every five years but while we don’t have this requirement in any other state, the only alternative is for a focussed continuing education programme which is backflow specific.

The Backflow Prevention Association of Australia Inc. has introduced a voluntary CPD programme which will evolve to include the missing upskilling that the backflow tradesperson needs to ensure they are worthy of the frontline health professional tag.

Training the tradesperson is great, but how do we inform the community; the mums and dads on the dangers of cross connections and why they sometimes have this ‘ugly valve’ in their plumbing system that needs annual and often costly testing and maintenance. If they understood that the clean fresh water they get from the tap could be poisoned by something they have connected to the water supply they would appreciate the need for vigilance in its maintenance and operational effectiveness.

The plumber is the ideal communicator of this information because they are welcomed onto the premises (often to fix something) and seen as a voice of authority. If the plumber was educated in the finer details of cross connection control, their position in the eyes of the customer would be increased from that of a ‘fixer’ to one of a preventative health professional.

Backflow prevention is a necessary and integral part of the modern plumbing system to ensure that when we turn the tap on, we get safe drinking water. We know this, but it is the what, the how and the why that is difficult to communicate to the everyday water drinker.


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