Ways to Reduce Operator Time Spent on Wastewater Operations

In 2019, the median pay for wastewater treatment plant and system operators was just under $23 an hour. It’s an important job, but it’s also imperative that districts try to manage costs for the residents and businesses in that area. Optimizing your workforce is an important step, but it’s just the first step to take.

There’s another reason to optimize your employment strategies. The recent pandemic is forcing wastewater treatment districts to make sure employees are spaced for social distancing. With a goal of six feet, careful planning is important. Plus, some workers may be unable to return to work if they have COVID-19 or are caring for someone with the virus. Thought needs to go into the adjustments that keep the right staffing levels without sacrificing productivity.

How do you best manage your employees and make sure the time spent on wastewater treatment operations isn’t wasted time? How do you optimize your operator’s time? These are the best ways to cut costs without sacrificing work quality.

Evaluate the Strengths and Weaknesses in Your Current Wastewater Treatment System

Complete a thorough site review. Look at the equipment you have in your wastewater facility and track flow rates, the amount of maintenance that’s performed each week, month, or year, and how old it is. See how many hours the equipment is at peak flow rates and when the wastewater isn’t coming in as fast. In many communities, morning showers and dinner hours are going to be the busiest. See if that matches up with what the operators experience each day.

Take time to ask the operators of that equipment how comfortable they are and if they encounter frequent issues. If there are problems, what has to be done to fix them. How many hours are operators spending on fixing issues or waiting for maintenance? Now, ask them how much time they spend sitting back and monitoring the different processes. This impacts productivity.

Look at the growth in your district. If the population has increased by 20% in the past couple of years, you have to consider how well your system can keep up with the growth. It could be time to rethink things and plan a major upgrade.

Is weather impacting the amount of wastewater entering the system? Has winter snow accumulation drastically increased over the past decade? Are sudden downpours or an increase in hurricanes more frequent than in the past? You can’t control the weather, but you can design a system that handles the unexpected and more frequent stormwater rushing into the plant.

Put Extra Time and Energy Into Training

Productivity also relies on the employees you have. Operators need to know what they’re doing and how to accommodate any surprises that pop up during the day. If you run into employees who seem to struggle more than others, they may just need some additional training. Look into workshops for them or put them with your best worker to hone their skills.

People learn at different rates. What took one operator a week to learn may take someone else two weeks. Try not to rush workers who are doing their best. If you train them too fast, they’re more likely to make mistakes. Operators who are pushed to learn quickly and don’t feel supported may just walk away. Can you afford to lose an employee and have to start from scratch?

On the other hand, you don’t want to waste time training a worker who is more interested in checking a phone than working. You should take time with someone who is trying hard to master the equipment, but you need to know when it’s a lost cause. Try to spot the dedicated employees from those who simply want the money and aren’t willing to put in an effort. The quicker you can weed out the good from the bad, the more time you’ll be able to dedicate to training the right people.

Embrace Automation and Real-Time Monitoring

When your operators are spending a lot of time fixing issues and manually changing settings, it wastes their time. Embrace automated wastewater treatment equipment that uses modern technology like real-time monitoring and adjusts settings automatically. You still need wastewater treatment plant operators, but they have a helping hand in meeting efficiency goals.

You want a system with real-time monitoring. When equipment points out problems at the exact moment they happen, it’s far more helpful than learning that something’s wrong as wastewater backs up or exits the plant before the raw sewage is properly treated. Untreated raw sewage during heavy rainfall or flooding isn’t ideal and can lead to fines. Real-time monitoring adjusts for increased flow rates and makes changes accordingly.

Computers help operators with efficiency and water treatment quality. Look for equipment that has computerized systems that can handle the routine tasks and alert the operator to potential problems before things get really bad.

Use the Sharp Biological Nutrient Removal (SharpBNR) process control system to monitor and optimize aeration rates during wastewater treatment. If more aeration is needed, the computer automatically adjusts rotor speeds. If aeration can be slower, again the computer will take care of it. SharpBNR is easily paired with SCADA to make sure water treatment processes are meeting goals. The system is designed to send out alerts and alarms as warnings of issues to make sure nothing gets overlooked.

Upgrade to Low-Maintenance Equipment

It’s a good time to look at upgrading older equipment with equipment that doesn’t require the same amount of maintenance. You’ll save money on maintenance, have less downtime, and increase productivity. Your maintenance team may not need to be as heavily staffed, and you’ll be able to transfer workers to other areas where they’re needed.

Start with the screw pumps. Depending on your plant’s size, you may need to save space with a Type C Enclosed Screw Pump. If you have plenty of space, an Open Screw Pump may work better. Your key consideration needs to be clog-free designs that improve efficiency.

Screening products are another component in wastewater treatment plant efficiency. The Raptor Multi-Rake Bar Screen uses a set of rakes to get into the screen’s openings to remove debris quickly and completely. This system is designed to be low maintenance and goes into reverse to free up jams.

Those are good places to start. Look at your list of current wastewater treatment equipment and see what’s older and going through frequent repairs. Upgrading that equipment is ideal. If it’s simply not in the budget, replacing worn parts is the second-best option. Energy-efficient motors and pumps will make a difference.

Partner With an Expert

When it’s decided that you should upgrade or replace equipment, select engineers and installers who will make sure your system meets your budget and exact needs. Choose your partner in wastewater treatment upgrades carefully. You need to balance costs with expertise, and some companies just don’t have the same experience as others.

Have you considered having experts walk through your wastewater treatment plant and offer suggestions for optimizing your system? It’s a good place to start. Lakeside Equipment’s engineers design efficient, cost-effective systems that are customized to a client’s needs.

Lakeside Equipment’s foundations go back 92 years. Our experts have helped communities across the U.S. plan, engineer, and maintain their water treatment systems. We provide quality wastewater treatment equipment that’s designed to meet your budget and operation goals. Give us a call to discuss your needs.