Posted by Ricky Langley on Jan 14, 2020 11:45:00 AM
Ricky Langley

Every year, wastewater leaders implement FOG Inspection programs to prevent the threat of sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) caused by improperly disposed fats, oils and grease (FOG). 

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates, there are over 40,000 sanitary sewer overflows/year, 48% of SSOs are caused by sewer main blockages and 47% of those blockages are FOG related*. Utility compliance solutions can help accurately monitor your data, inspections and reports.  

FOG Inspection basics

Utility compliance solutions are used to manage FOG problems. Municipalities can run public awareness campaigns and require food service establishments (FSEs) to install FOG interceptors (aka grease traps) to keep these damaging wastes out of the sewage system. 

While the individual FSEs are responsible for installing and maintaining these interceptors, municipalities are responsible for conducting thousands of FOG Inspections and providing utility compliance reports to state and federal regulators. These inspection and reporting requirements place a tremendous paperwork burden on wastewater department heads if they are not properly managed. 

How the EPA defines the FOG maintenance problem

FOG problems are a universal issue that can harm the environment by allowing contaminants to infiltrate our drinking water supply, which is why it is crucial to implement utility compliance solutions and FOG inspection programs. The United States Environmental Protection (US EPA) spells out the enormity of this issue in a recent presentation by EPA employee, Kyle Sorenson.

“Proper maintenance of even the poorest interceptor will provide better results than the lack of maintenance on the best interceptor”. - Kyle Sorenson, U.S. EPA

Managing the FOG Inspection Process

Managing this process can be quite complex for larger municipalities who have hundreds or even thousands of FSEs. These large communities can likely use their own employees to conduct inspections. 

For smaller water systems, utility compliance service companies are often hired to outsource the work. Either way, the wastewater department manager needs a way to assign the FOG Inspections work, confirm the inspection was properly completed, record the results, and report the results to the owner of the establishment.

Benefits of Using Cloud-Based Solutions for Utility Compliance 

Cloud-based work order software solutions are becoming very popular in the public works and wastewater industries because they are inexpensive to purchase, operate and maintain. Unlike traditional software solutions, using a cloud-based solution for utility compliance does not require IT support to install onto computers or upgrade new software versions.

Access Software and Data Anywhere

Cloud-based solutions are hosted on a server managed by the solution provider and they are accessed through an internet browser (i.e. Internet Explorer or Google Chrome) meaning they can be used on any type of desktop or mobile computing device including laptops, tablets, or smartphones. This means inspectors can enter data while they are in the field. 

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Subscriptions are Easy on the Budget

Cloud-based software solutions are sold on an annual subscription basis and include ongoing technical support and all upgrades.

No Need for IT Involvement

One important consideration is security. Be aware of solutions that use private or proprietary hosting providers. There are several reputable hosting services, including Amazon Web Services, which provide excellent reliability and security features. 

A second important security practice is controlling access to your solution. Limiting user accounts administrative access, and ensuring users do not share passwords will all help to keep your system secure.

Saving Time and Resources by Replacing Paper-based System

New technology doesn't have to be scary or threatening. Just a few years ago, Facebook and Twitter were leading edge cloud-based communications tools. Today, millions of people use these social media sites for daily communications. Cloud-based operations management solutions may be new to the water and wastewater markets, but they save municipalities and businesses tremendous time and money. 

The solutions automate boring, manual tasks that many people prefer not to do. For instance, manually preparing hundreds of utility compliance and FOG inspection reports can overwhelm many small to mid-sized communities. Cloud-based utility compliance solutions use intuitive forms and drop-down lists to ease the data entry process. Managers can assign tasks by simply ‘touching’ an icon on a map while field workers can complete forms on a tablet computer while in the field. Data is instantly updated in the system and both manager and worker know the work is complete. Electronic signatures can even be used to complete the task.

Verify Quality and Completion of Outsourced Work

Verifying the quality of work conducted by a field working or contractor is another utility compliance and FOG Inspection management challenge. In some cases, contractors claim they complete work, but the work wasn’t actually done. By the time the inspector verifies the work, the contractor is long gone. A unique cloud-based feature called Proximity Verification can be set up to require a worker to verify the work by posting photos and completing the report within several feet of the jobsite. In addition, photos, videos and documents can be uploaded and stored as part of the official inspection record.

Automates Workforce Management Process

FOG Inspection managers need to allocate and verify both inspection crews and maintenance crews, and having a visual view of the work area is a great way to understand the workflow. For years, paper maps, corkboards, or whiteboards provided visualization. Unfortunately, the supervisor had to be in the office or have a way to make the map mobile. 

Today, through the innovation of GIS and online mapping tools, managers can manage utility compliance, as well as the FOG maintenance and inspection process from anywhere at any time. FSE sites can be viewed on digital maps. Electronic icons indicate the status of the interceptor. When the job is completed the color of the icon changes. If the mobile devices have GPS tracking available, work crews can also be shown traveling from site-to-site on the map.

Simplifies Regulatory Utility Compliance

Since FOG inspections are mandated by local, state, and federal government agencies, inspection and maintenance reports need to be filed to the appropriate authority. Paper-based reporting can take thousands of work hours for data entry and printing tasks. Cloud-based solutions can greatly improve the efficiency of compliance reporting by automatically generating and sending reports.

Annual audits are also easier with a cloud-based operations management system. Instead of flipping through inspection reports in a three-ring notebook and manually verifying work orders, auditors can simply log into the system and view a complete electronic audit trail.

Additional Wastewater Solutions

Other wastewater management and utility compliance activities can be improved with cloud-based operations management software including Lift Station Inspections, Inflow & Infiltration (I&I), and Sewer Manhole Inspections.

Utility Cloud Operations and Asset Management Software Solution for FOG Inspections

Utility Cloud is cloud-based operations and asset management software platform to visually manage fixed assets, manage work orders, and simplify utility compliance reporting for public works, water, wastewater, storm water, transportation, highways, and utility, and industrial markets. The intuitive system is easy for users to use, yet offers powerful integration and automation features such as SCADA and IoT integration. Utility Cloud is available for global deployment and is securely hosted by Amazon Web Services.    

View FOG Inspection Video

Topics: Utility asset management

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