Water is a basic element for our survival and hygiene, and water tanks are a necessary component in any structure that houses humans – residential, commercial or industrial. The sheer count of water tanks and their subsequent piping system is quite surprising to any observer. Ashraf Roumie, General Manager, Bio Environment Services Technology, says, “Unfortunately, the market for cleaning and disinfection of water tanks and the adjoining pipe system is not determined by the count of tanks or pipe measure in kilometres; in fact, it is determined by the level of hygiene awareness discerned by both the government and the public, which in turn determines the standards of hygiene and the subsequent implemented frequency of cleaning and disinfection. Currently, excluding hotels, this is estimated to be less than 20 per cent for all sectors combined.”
In the UAE, the awareness level and hygiene implemented measures are comparatively well advanced and are strides ahead of other countries in the Middle East in terms of maintenance standards, implementation, and inspection. This creates a sizable market for cleaning and disinfection companies especially in Dubai, wherein Dubai Municipality follows a rigid system of inspection, standards and reporting.
Vijay Kavasseri, General Manager, mplus adds, “According to the Dubai & Abu Dhabi Municipality code of practice, water tanks should be inspected & cleaned either bi-annually or annually depending on where the tank is located and if they are constructed from either concrete, GRP, FRP, plastic or steel. This to ensure they are free from bacteria, sediment, sludge, algae growth, micro films, oils, rodents, insects and extensive corrosion, therefore ensuring that the water supply provided is clean, clear and safe for use.”
Currently, water tank cleaning and disinfection contracts are usually for a period of one year detailing the Tanks to be serviced along with component details, the frequency of cleans per contract, pricing and methodology, etc, contributes Roumie. “With the increased implementation of inspections laid out by the Dubai Municipality, we have witnessed a demand for contract of a longer duration reaching two and three years.” Often, to ensure that standards are met, the cleaning sessions are completed with post cleaning tests, Chlorine residual levels, Legionella testing, microbiological testing, E coli testing, etc. by authorized laboratories. Service contracts can be requested by tenants, or similarly by villas, apartment buildings and business owners. In addition, water samples in community and retail complexes must have their water samples tested by the UAE central laboratories either bi-annually or annually; however, freestanding villas are currently exempt. While it is the decision for individual villa tenants or owners to carry out these tests at their own discretion, regular testing is highly recommended.
Current practices and sustainability Kavasseri says, “Usage of cameras, automation & robotics are some new practices being utilised and explored in this field.” However, Roumie says, currently, there is minimal implementation of automation and robotics in the domestic market for cleaning small-scale water tanks. This is true even in commercial houses that can technically afford the installation of robotic tools such as leading hotels and manufacturers that are typical for high water usage. This is due to the irregular size and design of the tanks being manufactured and high capital outlay required for technology-based solutions.
Kavasseri says that all staff must be equipped with the latest technology and equipment including tripod systems with winch & full body harnesses, multi gas detectors with valid calibration certificates, high pressure jet washers, wet and dry vacuums, sump pumps, and local exhaust ventilation systems. Importantly, this also includes using chemicals and disinfectants that are of food grade and are suitable for use in the cleaning of drinking and domestic use water tanks.
Sustainability, while seemingly important, has a very small role to play in water tank cleaning, says Roumie. There is room for much to be done in efforts to sustain water supplies for future generations, he says. “This is particularly critical given the geographic area of the United Arab Emirates and the limited sources of natural water reservoirs and low precipitation.” Sustainability in clean water should not be negotiable. Regulations and laws should be put in place along with incentives and penalties with the objective directed at reduced utilization rates and hygiene standards, he concludes.
Challenges & future
“Carrying out this work during the summer months due to the oppressive heat and confined space is more of a danger than a challenge, which is why we ensure the appropriate expertise and personal protective equipment including extractor fans and safety harnesses are on hand to ensure the health and safety of our staff. This is our number one priority,” says Kavasseri. Another big challenge is that developers and contractors systematically overlook providing adequate access to tanks and associated equipment that requires cleaning and maintenance, which can make access more difficult.
This field is expected to grow in the future with the increased level of cosmopolitanizing of cities in the UAE and the Middle East at large. Water supplies are expected to decrease to critical levels in the medium to long future. This will necessitate the adherence to strict utilization and hygiene standards. “Furthermore, I can see increased efforts into the desalinization of sea water leading to new and changed standards to fresh water for both hygiene use and drinking,” says Roumie.
Sooner rather than later in the UAE, domestic and commercial water tanks will be manufactured with an aim to provide end users and contractors with an efficient and cost effective technological solution that will remove the need for trained manpower, foresees Kavasseri. There would be greater environmental benefit by utilizing solar power for the electricity needed for internal tank cleaning systems that could also power lifting pumps, filtration systems and eco-friendly dosing systems.
Health & Safety
The following safety procedures must be in place and followed before, during and after water tank cleaning:
- Obtain necessary work permit for entering into confined spaces from a trained & authorized person; the supervisor will ensure that task specific work method statement
- Risk assessment and emergency action plan is reviewed and signed off by all competent staff and line manager ensuring all possible risks and hazards are identified
- Supervisor will then conduct a TBT to all involved staff, briefing them to ensure all possible hazards are identified and reported immediately and if assistance is required for the control of hazards
- Supervisor ensures provision of safe access and egress, and that warning signs and barricades are located around the location
- Supervisor arranges all necessary emergency equipment.
- Also to be checked and made safe are all valves are closed and electrical items including pumps, lights, pressure washers and the Lock Out Tag Out procedure is followed
- Use of a multi gas detector is also needed to check the atmospheric condition before and during the operation for the safety of staff and an exhaust ventilator system installed to remove humidity and any gases that could be present in water tanks.