Inadequately Trained Testers Adversely Affect Backflow Programs
Backflow Prevention Assembly Testers that are not adequately trained can rake havoc on all those associated with enforcement of backflow prevention measures, including the facility having the assembly to be tested and the backflow prevention assembly tester. Testers have to be trained to recognize cross connections, malfunctioning assemblies, backflow situations and hydraulic situations affecting assemblies, correct assemblies for various hazards, correct installations, resolution factors for testing situations and nightmare situations, just to name a few. These affect testers and enforcement agencies.
The local water purveyor and/or the plumbing inspection department charged with enforcing the backflow prevention program, along with facilities having assemblies, are the first to see the results of untrained testers. Having enforced San Antonio’s Backflow Program for almost 30 years, I have first hand knowledge of untrained testers and how they affect a backflow prevention program, which is usually documented through conversations with the tester, testing results or resolutions provided involving the facility. All one needs to do to verify this is contact any enforcement agency having a viable Backflow Prevention Program to receive first hand information on the results of inadequately trained testers.
Testers that have been trained to test and troubleshoot in the classroom and not receiving the necessary hands-on training are those we see making the most mistakes in the field. There have been backflow tester courses in the past that only provided a few assemblies for testers to practice on and of which were not set up for troubleshooting. It is now a state requirement in Texas that there be no more than three students around a testing station (some around United States may argue three is still too many), and with testing stations consisting of all four types of testable backflow prevention assemblies. In addition, nothing can replace a set criteria for time allotted for hands-on training.
From a course instructor’s view, when a tester comes back through for the 8 hr. hands-on refresher session is when it’s noticeable who got the required initial 16 hrs. required hands-on training. Generally, a tester receiving adequate hands-on training can be brought back to his or her original skill level of testing and troubleshooting. Those that didn’t receive the initial training can’t be brought up to that standard in an 8 hr. session. We have seen testers with inadequate training that didn’t know the first thing about troubleshooting and in fact have seen testers that didn’t know the high hose from the low. These testers soon realize the backflow course they attended did not teach them what they needed to know.
Untrained testers promote automatic change out of assemblies instead of trying to repair the assembly. Automatic change out can affect all associated with the backflow prevention program. Facilities are charged for a new backflow prevention assembly, when all it needed was to be cleaned (usually the case). What caused the failure: backflow situation involving an unprotected cross connection, water hammer, check removed by facility, faulty assembly from manufacturer, etc. Without troubleshooting the assembly and taking the assembly apart, has the tester solved anything by just replacing the assembly.
The American Backflow Prevention Association and the American Society of Sanitary Engineering have established state-of-the-art backflow tester course outlines and tester certification programs to address these issues. Those involved in developing the criteria for tester courses and associated exams are from the various fields associated with cross connection control, i.e., enforcement, testers, manufacturers, etc. who are considered experts in the field.
Testers that are not trained in cross connection control measures, hydraulics, testing and troubleshooting can overlook a problem that can directly affect the facility, enforcement agency and tester. Backflow Prevention Assembly Testers are the Eyes and Ears of enforcement and they must be trained to Speak Backflow. Backflow testing courses need to follow established national guidelines or they are doing more harm than good to the backflow world.
In Texas, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) recognized these inadequacies and addressed the backflow tester training and tester qualification issues, by implementing a State Tester Licensing Program.