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An unmanned treatment plant requires a heavily staffed project team Sustainability Technology Treatment

Unmanned water treatment plants

More and more water treatment plants in the Netherlands are unmanned whereby operation takes place at a central location and there are no employee’s present anymore. We increasingly encounter this situation when carrying out renovations and modifications at existing plants. The work affects the operational situation and can lead to disruptions and safety risks. At an unmanned treatment plant, the likelihood of somebody responding immediately is virtually non-existent. Imagine a situation where a water treatment plant becomes defective during renovation work. The control centre will receive an alarm, but, generally speaking, there will not be an immediate response. In the meantime, just about anything can have happened at the plant but the contractor working there is powerless to do anything about it because he is unfamiliar with the plant. In the case of a biogas plant, for example, unburnt gas may be released when the plant stops working. This poses a huge risk.

Who is responsible?

When preparing a project like this, we take into account the potential risks attached to the work. Despite everything that may happen at the site, it is extremely important for the treatment plant to remain operational. The impact of performing work on the in-service plant is identified beforehand by the contractor in consultation with the plant manager whereby measures can be taken in advance. There are even more risks on top of the project-related risks and should an incident occur, there is nobody present who can solve it. The question is: Who is responsible and how should we handle this? The client is and remains, of course, ultimately responsible for the plant, but it is not present. The consequence of the unmanned treatment plant is that there is no one who knows the installation thoroughly, like the process operator (in previous times), and the risks are therefore more difficult to estimate.

Work team or supervisor?

Should a team assembled by the Water Authority be present on-site during the performance of work at an unmanned treatment plant? Or, should a full-time supervisor be assigned to the project? If so, the supervisor will need to be completely familiarised with the plant. This is a big ask for all concerned. Sooner or later, something is bound to go wrong if nobody is present on-site who can properly assess the risk of working on the in-service plant and can intervene immediately. Projects involving unmanned treatment plants require a robust project team to identify the risks and to make sure the project is completed safely.

Would you like to exchange ideas with our consultants? Iwan will be pleased to share ideas about your engineering issues. Contact him by email or call​ 088 943 3900.
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