A possible ban on thousands of wall-mounted chemical dispensers Australia wide due to present inconsistencies in interpretations of Australian Standard plumbing codes could potentially cause major disruption for cleaning and hygiene on numerous sites. Lorraine Day reports.
Within the cleaning industry there has long been frustration, confusion and economic concern as to how the plumbing codes are understood and applied. This is due to variations in interpretation by national, state and local government authorities, more particularly Backflow Prevention Officers within councils.
Cleaning contractors and in-house cleaners in hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants and other hospitality facilities are concerned that some wall-mounted detergent dispensers may not be able to be used. This means that cleaners will have to revert to handling larger containers on some sites, contrary to OH&S requirements, until uniform standards are implemented.
To be more environmentally friendly, cleaning chemical suppliers began removing the water from the product prior to shipping, only requiring dilution at the point of use to return the solution to a usable concentration.
This required less product to be shipped and reduced packaging costs, and end-users got many more fills of scrubbers, mop buckets, spray bottles, and so on, for each 5-litre container of concentrated cleaning solution, as well as less handling required of large containers.
However, the move to super- or even ultra-concentrates presented new challenges with regard to safety of the end-user as the cleaners/handlers had to pour small quantities of the concentrated chemical, sometimes as little as 10 ml, into a 300 ml spray bottle from a 5-litre container. Although not toxic, these concentrated products could cause skin irritations or even caustic burns if spilt and not rinsed off immediately.
Also, there was an added risk of incorrect dilution resulting in too little product and minimal sanitisation, or too much product, which could result in surface residues or, in the case of floors, present a slippage risk.
This prompted dispenser manufacturers to develop wall-mounted venturi-based proportioners which were introduced in the 1980s. The venturi innovation, named after Italian physicist Giovanni Venturi, uses a natural vacuum created in the device to pull the chemical product from a container of concentrate and mix it with water to the correct pre-determined dilution.
This, in turn, brought about compliance issues because the devices are plumbed into the mains’ pressure water supply, and require the fitting of a backflow prevention device that meets international plumbing codes.
The backflow device would make it impossible for any contaminants such as dirty water or chemicals to be siphoned back into the potable water supply if a negative pressure situation occurred such as a burst water main or a fire tender sucking huge quantities of water from the mains to fight a fire.
Most dispensing system manufacturers ensure their equipment complies with the backflow requirements in each of the countries in which they operate.
Backflow prevention devices are available in three hazard ratings – high, medium and low. High and medium hazard devices must be able to be tested and all testable backflow prevention devices and registered break tanks must be commissioned and tested annually by a licensed plumber.
In Australia, this compliance is carried out under the WaterMark Certification Scheme (WMCS) according to Australian and New Zealand Standards AS/NZS 3500 Part 2 and AS/NZS 2845 Part 1.
This process is monitored and certified by Standards Australia’s nominated independent certifiers. The standards are set down by the state governments and administered federally and through local government.
Prior to 25 February 2013, the WaterMark Certification Scheme was managed by the National Plumbing Regulators Forum (NPRF) and administered by Standards Australia.
The Scheme is now managed and administered by the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) which reports to the Australian Government minister and state and territory ministers responsible for building regulatory matters (known as the Building Ministers’ Forum).
The board’s 16 members include up to five industry representatives, the head of each Commonwealth, State and Territory Administration responsible for building matters, and a representative of the Australian Local Government Association. The Plumbing Code Committee is the ABCB’s primary technical advisory body on matters relevant to plumbing regulation reform.
“A complex regulatory environment has resulted in varying requirements between state and local authorities which complicates the process…”
According to JAS-ANZ, the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand, which provides accreditation to Conformity Assessment Bodies, ‘The WaterMark Certification Scheme is subject to a formal review as requested by the Building Ministers’ Forum. Consequently applications for assessment will not be accepted as of 27 May 2013 and applications that have been lodged will be suspended from further assessment until further notice’.
Simon Fraser, a spokesman for one of the independent certifiers, SAI Global Australia, said there is a lot of indecision or lack of clarity with plumbing codes.
“Companies are always bringing out new products which need to be certified to ensure they are compatible,” Fraser said. “Some devices don’t meet WaterMark Australian Standards as there is not always an appropriate existing standard, so new standards need to be developed to cope with the new products, and they have to be certified before they are installed.”
“A complex regulatory environment has resulted in varying requirements between state and local authorities which complicates the process; some devices fit within the scope of existing codes in one state but not another,” he explained. “It’s up to the plumbing inspectors of various jurisdictions to approve the devices.”
“We’ve got a few clients who certify with us. The products come from all around the world but the ones causing the main concern are wall-mounted chemical dispensers, from soaps to cleaning solutions. They need backflow prevention and most have low-hazard devices, in low-risk situations.
“I know they have a responsibility to protect the public infrastructure but some plumbing inspectors don’t agree these devices are low risk,” Fraser pointed out. “If clients can’t install a wall-mounted dispensing system that complies with the low-hazard backflow device, it makes the device not worth installing; it’s a lot more expensive.
“Even if the products meet the requirements, it’s also important how they are installed. Ultimately it is the plumber who has to ensure the device is suitable for the intended use.
“When you work in private enterprise, you want to get the job done; you don’t want to be held up with complex regulatory requirements – it’s a complex, frustrating business,” he empathised. “If the ABCB started developing new standards now, it’s possible that they could be in use by this time next year.”
The ABCB’s role is to facilitate development of standards in conjunction with industry and certifiers.
Because each state and territory government sets its own minimum acceptable standards, which may be higher than the federally-accepted minimum, if a state government makes the rules too onerous, compliance problems can occur. This happened recently in regional Queensland where certain councils argued that the cross-contamination of water supply risk was ‘high’. Therefore the built-in backflow devices used in many cases were not adequate for the associated risk.
Recent arbitration also questioned the testing regime of ATS 5200.033 and its suitability for the wall-mounted venturi-based dispensing systems, meaning that previously approved cleaning chemical dispensers may not be covered under the WaterMark scheme or comply with the appropriate Australian Standard.
According to Vince Neal of Total Dispensing Solutions Pty Ltd, there are a handful of councils around Australia that have taken the requirements for backflow devices on dispensing units to a questionable level.
“This is disappointing as the manufacturers and distributors go to great lengths and expense to comply to Australian Standards,” Neal said. “You have individual inspectors dealing with various classifications of chemicals and most work to comply with the low or medium hazard level.
“However, there are certain inspectors who regularly have different interpretations of the code. Some installations already have backflow devices fitted, so fitting extra devices would be pointless.
“To give credit to them, they are trying to do the right thing by the public but when they put forth their case, the client often has already complied to the Australian Standard, and has backflow devices fitted,” stated Neal.
In order to achieve a solution, Neal suggested a majority of councils would need to come to some agreement.
“Although the problem has been apparent every now and then for many years, the majority of complaints by our clients seem to be in Queensland,” he said. “It seems the answer lies with educating the councils and inspectors. However, there are rumours that moves are afoot to change the standard and that current standards may not be applicable in future.”
Neal said that of the five main equipment manufacturers, most were happy to work for the good of the industry. “The industry could lobby, but unless the councils get on board it would be futile.”
In the interim, to avoid unnecessary expense of retro-fitting additional backflow devices, many end-users of cleaning chemical dispensers would revert to concentrated chemicals being handled and decanted manually. In the case of numerous fast-food outlets Australia wide, this would mean that school-age children would be placed at risk in having to do this onerous task.