Keeping the pipes clear

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Educating policyholders on what can and can’t be flushed down domestic pipes could help insurers prevent a flood of claims this winter, says Andrew Greatorex

We have all heard the news stories, and experienced the impact, over the last few weeks of the various storms that have battered the UK. As ever, our thoughts turn to how this will impact claims to the insurance industry.

When the news stories turn to the aftermath of the winds and, more specifically, the rainfall that comes with the storms, we are often asked: could anything more have been done? Could the Government, the council, the housing association, and home owners have done something to prevent the amount of damage caused by the adverse weather?

The answer is, almost always, yes.

As we saw with the large-scale flooding across the country a decade ago, the incident itself is only a part of the cycle that leads to the resultant damage. There is also a huge part which is played by drainage and, more specifically, by the general failure to use, repair and maintain those drains properly.

Once all that water has fallen, it has to go somewhere. In a lot of cases, that somewhere is a drain, culvert or another drainage feature. If that drain is 50% or more obstructed with debris (as is frighteningly common), then all that water is not going to pass through as it should.

In our role as drainage surveyors and solution engineers, we find all manner of foreign objects in drainage pipes. Some of these are amusing, some are predictable and some are plain weird. But the one thing that unites them is that they should not be there.

We can all understand that every so often an inquisitive toddler may get carried away during playtime and flush one of their very many toy cars down the loo; that tree roots get into drains; and that sudden and unexpected damage will still occur. And that’s what we at DASA are here for.

What is of more concern to us is the huge volumes of fat, oil and grease we find furring kitchen waste pipework (like an image from the most terrifying anti-smoking or anti-obesity health warnings), the wet wipes and sanitary items that we find blocking bathroom waste lines with the total efficiency of concrete, and the tonnes of decaying leaves and yard debris that we jet-wash out of garden and water gullies every year.

We must all do our part in the prevention of the damage that we have seen in the wake of the recent storms. There will, of course, be damage and there will, of course, be flooding, however with a little more care taken over how we all use and maintain our facilities these issues will absolutely be reduced.

DASA echo’s the comments made by James Harrison, a technical manager at Yorkshire Water – who are particularly vocal in their attempts to educate their customers as to proper use of drains.

He recently took to BBC Radio 2 to air his concerns over the disposal of inappropriate items via domestic drainage systems.

“We’re noticing a significant increase in the amount of sewer blockages that are impacting on the health of the sewers,” he said.

“We understand information from polyester wet wipes manufacturers can be quite confusing as some products say flushable on the packaging. However, we would urge people to dispose of wet wipes in a bathroom bin at all times”.

Of course, there is a huge responsibility on water companies – especially since the Transfer of sewers and laterals to water companies in 2011 – to keep those sewers for which they are responsible as clear as is possible, and DASA will continue to pressure those parties as we always have. But we can all help them in that mission by thinking twice before we hit flush, or pour the grease from that pan down the sink.

As the weather in the UK continues to become ever “wetter”, the strong urge is to shrug our shoulders and blame fossil fuels, development around greenfield sites, and Donald Trump for the floods that we continue to suffer on a near-annual basis. While all of things are to a greater or lesser degree responsible for a great many ills, we must also look inwards and ask: ‘should this Balti really be poured down that sink?’

Here at DASA we see what happens when that Balti meets up with the wet wipes, the lost forks, and the tiny-fist-sized Ferraris that get into a drain when they shouldn’t. Who can forget the huge ‘fatberg’ blocking London’s sewage system just last month!? We get up close and personal when we have to excavate through people’s prize-winning flowerbeds. When those same drains are also tasked with dealing with a sixth of the predicted annual rainfall in a single day – as recorded in the 2007 floods – then everyone sees the result.

In our role as consultants to the insurance industry, we know that insurers are very keenly aware of the costs that are attributed to the repair and relief efforts in the aftermath of flooding, and everyone will be aware of the general trend in premium prices.

While we can all turn a blind eye, we can also do our small part to help reduce the impact of un-preventable natural phenomenon by simply taking more care.

Our advice? We need to educate customers to maintain their properties, to keep their rainwater pipes clear of leaves and debris, put the curry in the bin, dispose of anything that’s not suitable properly and to put the lid on the WC down when it’s playtime.

This will ensure that we can reduce the impact on claims made to the insurance industry at this time of year.

Andrew Greatorex is operations director at DASA (Drainage Advisory Services and Assistance)

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