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Water and Wastewater Treatment Facilities are constantly being challenged to meet an ever growing list of strict regulatory requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency (also known by its acronym EPA). The EPA takes very seriously its job of inspecting plants in order to insure compliance with the Clean Water Act and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System regulations. While supervisors at treatment facilities understand and appreciate the importance of this tight regulation they can feel overwhelmed and paranoid at the thought of being audited. This is a completely rational fear for most treatment facilities because the lab reporting and daily inspections of integral equipment are most commonly done on paper before being entered into the computer and filed in a huge cabinet full of other reports and inspections.
This opens the door to errors at several points in the process. Operators could enter incorrect information on their inspection sheets which may or may not be caught later by another set of eyes at the plant. If the incorrect information happens to be discovered by the data entry team, they are put in a position of either attempting to guess the entry that the operator meant to enter or physically going out to the location and recapturing the correct data which might be inaccurate if too much time has elapsed between the original inspection and the realization of a mistake having been made.
Another point in this process which is made especially vulnerable to errors is when the data entry team itself is translating the handwriting of operators into the computer. At this point in the process a simple type-o can mean big trouble down the line. The inspection sheets received by the data entry team are full of non-validated data in what is often messy or difficult to read handwriting. The team does their best to accurately record the information given to them but in the end they are not really checking for mistakes but rather for the completion of rounds and the readings taken by the operator. These readings are only really validated by the operator at the point of inspection and if an inaccuracy is captured it will likely slip right into the final report with no one the wiser.
Mark Cowley is part owner and VP of FlexSystems, LLC which has released its cutting edge data collection system “FlexOps” which runs on ruggedized hand held PDA’s and works seamlessly with popular operations, compliance, maintenance and LIMS software systems. The FlexOps system represents the emerging standard of the water and waste water industry. With FlexOps, operators in the field are led through their daily inspections by the PDA which comes loaded with fully customizable standard operation procedures. The PDA is used to scan a bar coded location and then takes operators through the inspection step by step via touch screen prompts. Any problem discovered during an inspection is automatically emailed to appropriate facility staff such as maintenance or supervisors. Reports are all seamlessly integrated into existing reporting systems and are easily accessed for future facility and state auditing. FlexOps software increases efficiency and profitability by streamlining and standardizing workflow and moving reports from paper filled filing cabinets into the digital age with reliable, legally defensible and easy to use data collection.
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