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What’s going on below? (Part 1)

Every year, millions of people are the world become ill and die simply because they do not have a safe, clean place to do that thing we all must do – go to the loo. According to Statistics South Africa’s 2013 general household survey, 89,9% of South African households have access to piped water, while only 77,9% have access to improved sanitation.

One of the most important factors of preserving and improving the health and wellness of people around the world is drainage. Safe, reliable, adequate drainage has always been a big part of any sanitation system.

For many centuries, lead was the favoured material for water and drainage pipes, because its malleability made it practical to work into the desired shape. In fact, lead was so commonly-used that the word ‘plumber’ is actually derived from the Latin word for lead, ‘plumbum’. Lead pipes were also the source of many lead-related diseases though and, with the advent of technology, safer and more effective piping materials have dominated the market.

Wooden pipes were also used in the past, especially in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. The pipes were essentially hollowed-out logs, which were tapered at the end with a small hole in which the water would pass through. The multiple pipes were then sealed together with hot animal fat.

Other popular material choices include cast iron, PVC, HDPE, polypropylene, and copper, each of which comes with its own pros and cons and must be used correctly in order to achieve the best results. But material choice can only take you so far; once the appropriate material has been selected, the plumber must ensure that the drainage system is properly installed.

What the standard says
Standards are sets of rules that outline specification of dimensions, design of operation, materials and performance, or describe quality of materials, products or systems. These standards should cover the performance expectations of the product for particular applications, as well as, in the case of drinking-water contact, the chemicals that may be leached from the product into the water. The intent of standards is to provide at least minimum quality, safety or performance specifications so as to ensure relatively uniform products and performance, and to remove ambiguity as to the suitability of certain commercial products for particular applications. They reduce the risk of error by installers, and also provide assurance to the plumbing system owners.

Standards also provide direction to manufacturers in respect to the expectations of the products that they produce. Internationally accepted standards provide economies to both the manufacturer and the user by reducing the number of products of the same type that must be produced. Standards may be developed by industry, non-profit organisations or trade associations, as well as national or international bodies. The existence of credible standards and certifiers relieves the regulatory authority of the need to develop its own case-by-case standards and product assessment system.

The standard that deals with drainage is South African National Standard (SANS) 10400-P, which was issued in terms of the National Building Regulations (NBR) and Building Standards Act, includes many important definitions for plumbers and installers to take note of. One of the most important, however, is that it defines a competent person as ‘a person who is qualified by virtue of their education, training, experience and contextual knowledge to make a determination regarding the performance of a building or part thereof in relation to a functional regulation or to undertake such duties as may be assigned to them in terms of the NBR’. Competency is an intricate and hotly-debated issue so it is vitally important than any plumber or installer undertaking to install a drainage system, or any plumbing installation, is aware of the standards and follows them.

In terms of the requirements of sanitation systems, SANS 10400-P (Annex B) states that sanitation systems shall, with an appropriate degree of reliability over the lifetime of a building:

a) Provide for privacy and protect the user and others from the weather when in use;
b) Prevent soil, garbage and other foreign materials from entering the system by the action of wind or animals; 
c) Not present or cause a nuisance or a danger to health as a result of their use and operation;
d) Withstand all actions to which they are likely to be subjected to;
e) Not leak soil water into the surrounding soil, if buried;
f) Be compatible with the water supply;
g) Be capable, where required, of carrying the design hydraulic load, and drain and discharge into a municipal sewer system, a common drain or other sewage disposal system, or dispose of effluent in a safe and inoffensive manner;
h) Not contaminate clean water supplies or ground water to the extent that such contamination poses a health risk;
i) Be easy to use, clean and maintain;
j) Be able to accommodate and dispose of commonly-used cleaning materials; and 
k) Satisfy nominated parameters, depending upon the nature of the system.

All sanitation systems, including the below-ground drainage element of those systems, must satisfy the above requirements to be deemed compliant.

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