Update: The IAPMO Backflow Prevention Institute on water safety

By Sean Cleary

Perhaps one of the most important human needs in our society is a supply of clean safe drinking water. And, it is also something that is commonly taken for granted by the general public and by the many in the plumbing and mechanical industry.

When it comes to the subject of cross-connection control, education is important on many different levels. Everyone has a part to play when it comes to the safety of our water supply. Cross-connection control education is lacking in many areas of the country and in many seg- ments of the water, plumbing and mechanical industry. As water systems become more complex, this problem is increasing. With the use of reclaimed or gray water, rainwater catchment and other water reuse systems, cross-connection control becomes more and more vital. The number of people needing education is also growing. If we look at the way in which the industry is changing it becomes clear the need for education has never been greater.

Piping materials and joining methods have  evolved and become more and more user friendly. The needed skill level to actually physically install water piping and plumbing systems has decreased. For many years, water piping within a building or facility was brass or galvanized treaded pipe or copper tubing. These systems required threading equipment, torches, and other tools not available to the handyman or home owner. Solder or brazing copper tubing required skill level and training most people out- side the plumbing or mechanical industry did not possess.

Now, with plastic pipe, push fit fittings, and other joining methods, people who neither understand system requirements and code regulations nor backflow preven- tion have the ability create real problems and potential dangerous situations within a water piping system. Even within the plumbing, sprinkler, irrigation and mechanical industries training is needed on both the apprentice and journeymen level to make sure the individuals installing and maintaining piping systems recognize the need for cross-connection control. Water operators and purveyors also need to put in place more aggressive training pro- grams. And, design professionals need to ensure that they understand the importance of backflow protection in the systems they design and specify. So, in reality we need to create training and education programs for everyone from the supplier to the designer, installer, inspector and end user.

In the current economic and political climate, there are people are looking to weaken regulations and let the free market reign. They would like to see the industry self regulate to ensure the system works. I disagree. Our water systems and public water supply are far too important. Water is our most precious resource and we need to pro- tect it. Those of us in the plumbing and backflow industry need to continually monitor the actions and policies of water purveyors, both public and private. We need to ensure regulations are made stronger, not weakened. We need to educate inspectors, legislators, public officials, and the consumers or end users about the responsibility we all have to protect public health and public water supply. That is why the work we do at the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Official's (IAPMO) Backflow Prevention Institute (BPI) is so essential.

The year 2015 looks to be another important one for IAPMO/BPI. IAPMO/BPI is expanding its training into new areas across the U.S. It has become clear that edu- cation and training is needed in all areas of the plumb- ing, mechanical, irrigation, water supply, fire protection, engineering, design, and inspection industry. To meet these needs, IAPMO/BPI is updating our current class material to remain current with code revisions and product innovations while developing additional training classes for plumbing, mechanical, and building inspectors, for code officials and plan reviewers and for engineers and designers.

These classes will allow these individuals to get a better understanding of cross-connection control and the proper use of backflow prevention methods, devices, and assem- blies. It will also allow them to appreciate the hydraulics of the water system, and become familiar with other areas of cross-connection control. The expanded use of multi- craft and third party inspection companies has left some areas with a lack of qualified personnel need to properly inspect and maintain cross-connection control programs in their jurisdictions.

IAPMO/BPI is also promoting and scheduling expand- ed backflow tester, surveyor, program  administrator, and repairer classes in several new areas including: Alaska, Wisconsin, areas of Canada, Ohio, New York, New Mexico, and Nevada. This is in addition to the training we have been providing in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Colorado, Arizona, Louisiana, Maine, Wyoming, Minnesota and California.

We have finished up our update of the Second Edition IAPMO Backflow Reference Manual. This  manual  is the most used training text in the industry and is used in apprenticeship  and  journeyman  training  programs throughout the cross-connection industry. The new third edition of the manual will be available in August.

Working with ASSE International, and several other industry groups, IAPMO/BPI is promoting the establish- ment of minimum standards for training and certifica- tion program on a national and international basis. The ASSE Series 5000 Cross-Connection Control Profession Qualification Standard is in the final step if its latest revi- sion cycle. When released, it will strengthen and increase the training necessary to work within the cross-connection industry. Since it was first released in 1990, it has been the referenced standard in all three model plumbing codes used in the U.S. and is a bible to many who toil in the industry. This ANSI Accredited document provides people working in the cross-connection industry a clear standard with which to provide the necessary requirements for training and certification. The patchwork approval system currently in place in many areas of our industry at times stifles innovation and shuts out new ideas. The ASSE Series 5000 standard creates a level playing field for pro- gram acceptance.

IAPMO/BPI, along with ASSE International, is also the publisher of Backflow Prevention and Plumbing Standards magazine. This magazine is dedicated to the backflow and cross-connection industry. With a current circulation of over 12,000 individuals, it provides thought provoking articles and information in a monthly format. Please visit our web-site for more information at www.iapmobpi.org

IAPMO/BPI is providing training and education for all sections of the industry to allow them to have the tools and skills to protect our potable water systems. Access to clean, safe drinking water is a basic human right. Please join us in making sure it is there now and in the future for all the worlds’ citizens. Remember, education is a lifelong commitment and change is never ending. I hope to see you at a seminar soon. 

Sean Cleary is a licensed master plumber from Scranton, Pa. Over the course of his 38-year career, he has worked in all phases of the cross-connection, plumb- ing, and mechanical industries. Sean is a past president of the American Society of Sanitary Engineering. He is also served as the chairman of the ASSE Cross-Connection Control Technical Committee for over 10 years. Sean is employed by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) as vice president of Operations for the IAPMO Backflow Prevention Institute. The institute is a leader in cross-connection training with- in the U.S. and on an international basis. Sean is also the Technical Editor for Backflow Prevention and Plumbing Standards magazine.

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