Preventive Drain Cleaning Prevents Major Plumbing Problems
Drain cleaning in institutional and commercial facilities presents maintenance and engineering managers with challenges that are especially tough in health care and education.
The challenges in health care facilities include the need for preventive maintenance to head off clogged drains, as well as ensuring a sterile environment for patient health and safety. Perhaps the biggest challenge in education facilities is the need to stay one step ahead of students who create major headaches for departments' efforts to keep sinks, urinals and toilets clog-free and operational.
By understanding the most pressing drain-cleaning challenges related to both equipment and processes, managers and front-line technicians can develop solutions to prevent and detect these problems.
Points of entry
Problems related to drain cleaning in health care and education facilities start at the entry points for drain systems.
Using toilets for wastebaskets creates recurring problems. Children drop toys in them, and adults use them to dispose of all manner of solid objects that end up caught in traps, causing overflows.
Floor drains are another entry point that is often abused. Rather than sweep up solid trash before washing down garage and kitchen floors, cleaners often just hose down the floors, letting solid debris enter the sewer system and clog lines, overload settling basins and cause backups.
Commercial kitchens in health care and education facilities are especially hard on drains because of waste water that contains fats, oil and grease, which includes petroleum-based products and lotions. Foul odors are a nasty problem that results when decomposing food accumulates on top of hardened grease in grease traps. Ineffective grease trap pumping does not remove grease buildup but instead leaves crusted grease on trap walls.
Many drain cleaning challenges in health care are related to staff and patients who flush leftover medications, bloodborne pathogens, personal-care items, sharp objects, and red-bag waste down drains, as well as housekeepers who overuse chemical cleaners.
Evaluating Preventive Plumbing Maintenance Results
Preventive maintenance (PM) as a component of drain cleaning is most effective when technicians continually evaluate the results. Adjusting the frequency of maintenance tasks, methods, and products used is essential for balancing the ever-changing number of occupants and usage.
Managers can use PM to head off clogged drains with excellent results by applying three tools: familiarity with old and updated drain systems; use of camera and other non-destructive evaluation technology; and the system's history.
A technician's first line of defense is familiarity with piping-system layouts and location of traps and cleanout access points. A backed-up toilet or sink might be due to a blockage elsewhere in the system, so knowing the flow direction, as well as likely locations of blockages and cleanouts, can be invaluable when time is critical.
Also, knowing the sizes of various vertical and horizontal components — 4-inch drains are for toilets, 2-inch drains are for tubs and showers, 1 1/2-inch drains are sinks, long-radius elbows are drains, and regular elbows and tees are vents — helps technicians troubleshoot the problem.
Using video technology is a proven tactic for discovering whether a blockage exists and, if so, its exact location in a riser or lateral run. The locator system on the video camera's head shows on screen the distance into the pipeline and the depth of the head is when it reaches the blockage. The image also shows whether the culprit is roots, grease, or other solid objects.
If the piping is divided into segments and identified separately, the system's repair history will identify segments that have had the most blockages, as well as where the use of rodding or hydrojetting equipment is likely to have the best effect. By reviewing the saved video of previous camera inspections to determine the causes of previous blockages, a technician can bring the right rodding attachments to the job to clear the drain quickly.
Educational Programs Help Minimize the Need for Drain Cleaning
Education — both for building occupants and of technicians — is essential for minimizing the need for drain cleaning in institutional and commercial facilities.
In health care, the process involves ensuring a sterile environment by strict adherence to proper waste isolation and disposal procedures to avoid transmission of diseases. Point-of-use signs that show proper disposal of solid waste and points out well-maintained and clean waste disposal receptacles is a constant reminder for occupants to help prevent drains problems.
Education programs for maintenance technicians encompass safe and effective methods for using equipment, such as snakes, powered drain cleaners, high-pressure water-jet cleaners, and video cameras. The process also involves information on proper personal protective equipment, including gloves, glasses with side shields or goggles, hard hats, and respirators.
The education process also should address proper use of cleaning chemicals. Using correct, measured amounts and types of chemical cleaners, along with effective methods, ensures health and safety while minimizing product use. Experts warn against using acid-based cleaners because, in addition to eating away iron pipes, they dissolve the grease but simply move it farther into the drain, where it re-solidifies and can cause a worse clog. Bleach cleaners turn grease into carbon dioxide and water, and are much safer.
Inventorying cleaning chemicals can help housekeepers discover safety risks. If a houekeeper's closet has hydrochloric acid cleaner and another has sodium hypochlorite cleaner, and janitors use them in different parts of the same drain, they combine to form chlorine gas. If this combination backs up in a sink due to a clog, it can produce chlorine gas, which can be deadly.
Discussing drain cleaners with several vendors helps managers get the right combination for their drains, as well as advice on application training. Education courses offered by vendors ensure that supervisors know problems to watch for and that custodians know proper amounts for dilution rates to achieve the desired strength, and application methods.
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