Mobile strategies enable compliance with new water regulations

May 3, 2016

Parties affected by new Legionella legislation are rushing to ensure compliance, but water treatment providers are struggling to meet their calls for help.

These days, people often think of automobile accidents and severe storms as the biggest threats to their physical health yet overlook one of the biggest hazards: bacteria.

Human vulnerability to disease was highlighted last September in New York when an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease struck 13 New Yorkers, killing one. Caused by bacteria Legionella found in nearby cooling towers, the outbreak was the second in a span of only three months. Similar outbreaks had occurred in July and August, affecting 120 and killing 12.

As a result, New York introduced numerous legislative and regulatory programs to help prevent future outbreaks. These programs call for building owners and managers to have all cooling towers under their watch inspected quarterly, and outline strict guidelines for how long these managers and owners have to rectify any problems, such as faulty equipment or contamination.


Parties affected by this legislation are rushing to ensure compliance, but water treatment providers are struggling to meet their calls for help. In fact, after the July and August outbreaks, water inspectors were already facing difficulty keeping up with demand. While customer demand indicates strong growth, it also presents a host of logistical issues. Rushing to complete a high volume of work orders can negatively impact efficiency and safety compliance and increase delays.

In Australia, regulations similar to those being implemented in New York were introduced some years ago. Just like their U.S. counterparts are now, Australian water treatment service providers faced the initial struggle of increased demand as local business owners rushed to ensure compliance. To overcome this scramble, the leading Australian providers turned to mobile technology, arming their field service technicians with solutions that increased productivity and workflow. U.S. providers would be wise to consider a similar approach. Below are three reasons why.

Improve project efficiency

Using mobile applications, managers overseeing multiple projects can improve the efficiency and transparency of an entire project, from authorization and accountability to scheduling and monitoring.

When a technician shuts down a cooling tower in preparation for disinfection, a mobile application can remind the employee to immediately start draining water from the sump. This step seems elementary, but forgetting to initiate drainage of the sump for even 10 minutes could start a chain of delays. Once the technician initiates drainage, the app can then direct the tech to check for and remove any heavy sedimentation on the top or bottom of the infill. This step-by-step process initiated by the mobile app helps ensure the job is completed correctly while allowing managers to monitor progress in real-time, no matter where they are.

Ensure safety compliance

When field technicians work in confined spaces, on rooftops and with complex machinery, the chance of injury increases.

Mobile platforms make it easier for project supervisors to ensure workers take the necessary steps to create a safe job site. Before starting a cooling tower inspection, regular maintenance or repair, mobile solutions can direct technicians to make sure the power supply to the tower’s fan is shut off. If the app utilizes imagery, a technician can document that a lock-out/tag-out is in place by simply snapping a photo of it.

Unlike paperwork, mobile apps can enforce workflows, such as safety, by flagging them as mandatory. A technician arriving at a customer site cannot move forward in workflow until after completion of the proper safety forms, such as a confined space permits. Additionally, mobile applications also facilitate immediate reporting of all safety concerns and injuries. This ensures timely and proper management of such issues, further strengthening regulatory compliance.

No doubt, the increase in demand for water treatment services means providers have an opportunity to grow their business. However, how good is an extra $100K in revenue to a business if it is paying twice that in fines for compliance violations?


Minimize project delays

Delays in delivering a customer service plan can cost water service providers time and money, resulting in poor customer service that negatively impacts a company’s brand.

A mobile solution can manage the effective dispatch of emergency jobs into the field. For example, a back-office scheduler receives a priority work order from an abnormal reading, resulting in re-testing that must be carried out immediately. The scheduler can instantly dispatch the job to the closest technician and receive a real-time accept or reject response. Additionally, mobile solutions can increase operational transparency and help prevent delays with better communication in the field. If an inspecting supervisor is due at Site C at 2 p.m. but a technician onsite relays via a mobile app that the work needing inspection will not be done until 3 p.m., the supervisor can see this request and approve it in real-time. The supervisor can then move onto another task, instead of arriving at Site C an hour before the work needing inspection
is complete.

Unfortunately, New York is not the only state to confirm a recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. California and Illinois have also reported cases. Water treatment service providers should anticipate more stringent regulation across the nation to prevent future outbreaks, and therefore a greater demand for their services. Mobile solutions will help providers better meet the needs of those who require their services and make the world a little safer for everyone.

Margot Hoekstra is a business analyst and project manager at Retriever Communications, a producer of wireless field technology for improving field worker productivity.

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