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Veolia: The vanguard for safety

Veolia - safety on HPWJ trucks

Veolia claims that there are few companies have had as much of an influence on safety standards for high pressure water jetting.

In 2021, Veolia began developing a series of guidelines and safety measures collectively called its high-risk management standards (HRMS).

The impact of the HRMS is being seen in Veolia’s operations around the world. In Queensland, the company performs maintenance and operation work on water and sewage assets, looking after all elements of the transport network – the pipes – that keep water and wastewater going where it needs to.

Safety is success
Daniel Faccio is a senior asset engineer for Veolia’s Queensland branch. His work involves customer service and keeps him close to Veolia’s teams on the job. Having been with Veolia for almost a decade, Faccio has seen how the company’s approach to safety has taken shape in its workforce, but also on the industry as a whole.

Faccio says that decades of evidence from work in the field shows that the safest work environments are also the most productive.

“Safety is at the forefront of everything we do,” says Faccio. “If the guidelines are well-structured, then the work is safe, and you then get the highest benefit of productivity out of that outcome. That drives us, because keeping our people safe also guarantees the best outcome for our clients,” he says.

High risk does not mean unsafe
While there are challenges involved with high pressure water jetting (HPWJ), it is still utilised by Veolia as one of the safest methods for cleaning underground assets like sewer pipes and storm water lines. It is an effective way to remove tree roots, sediment, and other blockages from these assets.

Before the advent of water jetting, crews would have to manually pull through chains or steel cables with discs that would remove blockages. These traditional methods had a long list of heightened risks to work crews, especially when combined with the sheer level of manual handling required to complete them.

“Water jetting makes the cleaning of sewers less labour intensive, it is actually safer for the crews to waterjet then manually pull the traditional discs with tensile cables or plumbing rods. Combining jetting with a vacuum system just adds another level of safety,” says Faccio.

He explains that most of the risk with water jetting comes from the nozzle. Without the appropriate safety measures, there is a risk that the pressure from the hose will whip the nozzle out of the maintenance hole, which can cause property damage, injury, and even death.

This is where Veolia’s HRMS comes in to mitigate those risks. The company fastidiously assessed all the potential causes of harm across the industry to develop these standards and holds to them without compromise.

“The HRMS is basically Veolia’s Bible,” says Faccio. “Our people know we don’t compromise on safety.”

Specific solutions to safety needs
Veolia’s entire fleet of trucks – equipment ranging in value from $200,000 to $1.5 million – are equipped with the highest level of safety equipment. The safety measures cover everything from engineered controls on the equipment, like pressure safety valves, to the highest quality personal protective equipment (PPE).

The company has introduced a mechanism called a hold to activate on the HPWJ controllers on every one of its trucks. If it is released while the equipment is being operated, the entire water pump systems shuts down – minimising the risk of a loose nozzle causing damage.

“We actually managed to get the industry to incorporate the hold to activate feature into all the new trucks, and we’ve retrofitted it into our entire older fleet as well,” says Faccio.

To get things changed, Veolia has had to challenge the status quo. One such instance was in the standard use of whip checks – a piece of equipment designed to restrain a hose, but not to its full extent. With a whip check in place, hoses can still buck up to a metre at incredibly high speeds.

“Once again, we’ve gone through and retrofitted all of our trucks with a hose stocking – which actually restrains the hose and stops it from whipping out in the event of a connection failure,” says Faccio.

He says that the industry assumption was that whip checks would be suitable, but Veolia upgrading its fleet with hose stockings has raised the bar across the industry.

“You can’t downplay the significance of that step. It’s a huge safety advantage to the industry,” Faccio says.

The right equipment is incredibly important, but even the best pieces run the risk of failure. For this reason, Veolia also rigorously pressure tests all its hoses as part of its standard procedure. If a hose does break, it gets repaired and tested again to make sure it is fit for use with the minimum possible risk of rupturing.

All hands on deck
Veolia’s relationship with the industry has demonstrated a far-reaching interest in improving safety measure.

The company worked with an Australian supplier to make anti-withdrawal devices – a kind of customised maintenance hole lid – available to the whole industry. Once again, the company is in the process of outfitting its fleet with these devices.

“The device prevents the nozzle from coming back out towards the operator. It’s been a safety-first move for us, and now that technology is being shared with the industry, available for all people to use as part of their safety features,” says Faccio.

Specific designs were needed to ensure the safety of crews undertaking HPWJ work on asbestos sewer pipes which in fact may have been in breach of safety laws. On behalf of the industry, Veolia engaged in discussions with the safety regulator to determine the level of risk associated with this work.     

Around 30 to 40 per cent of sewer pipes in Queensland are made of asbestos. According to Faccio, this could be as high as 80 per cent, depending on when the council in question laid the original sewer infrastructure.

Originally, the commonly held industry opinion was that asbestos was safe if it was wet, as in HPWJ work. In teaming with regulators to test the air quality at work sites, Veolia found below-detectable levels of asbestos in the air.

To address this, Veolia modified its safe work method statements (SWMS, or “swims”) to control for the unique risks posed by asbestos pipes, as well as introducing an asbestos management plan for all work.

Operators receive RTO training for  class B As per AS4233.1 Section 7.

For the benefit of all industry operators
Veolia didn’t have to raise the bar in the way it did. Safety is now well-known as a strong driver of value. The capital expenditure is offset by increased productivity in the field and less downtime from equipment failures or injury to personnel, increasing value for customers.

More importantly, Faccio says that keeping workers safe is always the right thing to do.

“We weren’t willing to go along with the industry norm when it came to delivery in the field, so we took it upon ourselves to put further practical safety controls in place to make sure the risks were removed.”

Veolia continues to work towards a safer industry, often driving change at significant cost. There is no doubt that the cost is worth it, both for the company and for the industry as it grows to meet safety requirements, and solutions. Developments for which Veolia is at the vanguard. 

“Ultimately, we want everyone to get home in the same condition they arrived to work in,” says Faccio.

For more information visit Veolia.

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This article appeared in the December edition of Trenchless Australasia. Access the digital copy of the magazine here.

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