Tristan Hughes is business development manager at specialist provider OSSO
Daily walks along riverbanks, canals, lakesides, beaches – they were a familiar routine for many of us during the long months of COVID-19 lockdowns. And I believe they gave us a greater appreciation of our local aquatic environment – a new sense of its value, and a fresh awareness of how important it is to protect it.
Add the growing global recognition of fresh water as a finite resource that must be respected and it’s clear there are fundamental social changes influencing companies as they examine how best to manage wastewater arising from their operational practices.
Of course, there is a duty of care on any construction firm or site owner to ensure wastewater meets set criteria when it leaves the site via a sewer or surface watercourse. But there are other motivational factors at play, often directly reflecting those changing public perceptions.
The ‘zero harm to the environment’ principles adopted by regulators are increasingly embracing on-site water management. There is also a growing imperative for companies, including those in the supply chain, to develop ESG strategies and to live them out in their everyday activities.
Falling foul of the law
Then there are the consequences of falling foul of environmental protection laws. You only need to go back a few years to find the maximum fine for polluting the environment was about £50,000. That has now changed. Today, the sentencing guidelines allow judges to impose fines based on factors such as company turnover, the category of pollution and the degree of negligence.
Earlier this year, one housebuilder was fined more than £400,000 for several instances of illegal discharges from a development site into a Welsh river.
It is against this backdrop that we’re seeing strategic water-management planning become more commonplace – where it isn’t already – as part of the preparatory phase in construction projects.
Although it has often been seen as a drain on development resources, it makes increasing sense in the modern-day operating environment. Apart from helping companies to sidestep the issues associated with dealing with water that can arise at short notice – and have an impact on project schedules – they are helping to protect business reputations.
“We’re seeing strategic water-management planning become more commonplace as part of the preparatory phase in construction projects”
In the same vein, many tender documents now require construction companies – from main contractors through to supply-chain businesses – to disclose any association with pollution-related events in the past. So future business growth plans could be undermined if they have fallen short in their practices.
What will be interesting to watch in the coming period will be the extent to which effective wastewater management climbs the list in the context of the wider health, safety and environmental agenda. On-site personnel welfare is, of course, top priority, and in the environmental arena, issues such as carbon-footprint reduction measures are also high-profile. But, in light of the drivers I summarised above, we are likely to see an ever-greater focus on protecting the immediate natural environment.
As you walk on to any construction site, there is usually a panel that states how many days it has been clear of safety-related incidents. It would be great to see that same panel also record how well the site is doing when it comes to local environmental protection.
What actions can we take?
So, in practical terms, what can companies now do in pursuit of those goals?
Tankering has been the most common go-to solution over the years, but it can be an expensive and inefficient option. And the number of tanker movements frequently involved represents an environmental drawback, as does the potential for local noise pollution and added road congestion.
“As ever, the alternatives stem from innovative thinking”
As ever, the alternatives stem from innovative thinking. Our specialist sector is no different from any other in exploring new ways to help customers deliver on their obligations. For our part, we looked at how we might refine the process of removing suspended solids from dirty water as it is treated on site for discharge.
We have done this by developing a solution that has an automated dosing capability, which measures how dirty the water actually is and then doses chemical reagents in proportion to both flow and levels of contamination. The trigger point for dosing can be set to reflect the relevant discharge measures, eliminating the needless use of chemicals when the water is already below the required criteria, and ensuring only the optimum levels are dosed when necessary.
This is one example of how the construction industry supply chain can adapt and improve traditional techniques when demands for accountability stem from a variety of sources – customers, employees, local communities and more.
I’d like to think that we’re doing our bit to contribute to robust and efficient wastewater management for the modern-day industry – that takes us closer to the day when we see construction sites consistently and proudly displaying excellent local environmental protection statistics at their gates.
Find out more about specialist fluid temperature control and separation solutions provider OSSO.