Plumbing in remote Aboriginal communities

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The Minister for Commerce has approved amendments being made to the Plumbers Licensing and Plumbing Standards Regulations 2000 (the Plumbing Regulations) to help improve health and living conditions in Western Australia’s remote Aboriginal communities.

The changes will allow a suitably qualified environmental health worker based in or close to communities where ready access to a licensed plumber is not available to undertake a limited range of simple plumbing repairs. The repairs are designed to keep clean drinking water flowing and prevent unsanitary conditions from arising or getting worse until a licensed plumber can get there.

The Building Commission has worked with stakeholders including the Master Plumbers and Gasfitters Association and State Government agencies such as the Department of Health, the Department of Housing and the Regional Services Reform Unit to develop the new scheme, which is expected to commence in December 2016. This included the release of a consultation paper inviting the public to comment and make submissions on the proposal in February 2015 and a decision paper in August 2016. 

“Many remote Aboriginal communities are located hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town and are only accessible via extremely rough roads and tracks. Some become inaccessible by road during the wet season or by both road and air during extreme weather events such as cyclones,” Building Commissioner Peter Gow said.

“In such situations, the importance of ensuring a reliable water supply and effective sewerage treatment services for people living in those communities becomes even more paramount.

“The new scheme will reduce the health risks and significant water wastage that often arise in cases where plumbing in a remote Aboriginal community is in immediate need of a simple emergency repair but the geographical location of the community prevents a licensed plumber from getting there quickly enough to fix it.”

The range of ‘permitted work’ will be clearly listed in the Plumbing Regulations and will cover repairs such as: unblocking toilets, showers, waste pipes and drains by the use of flexible hand rods, plungers or hand-held water hoses; capping a burst water main or a section of damaged waste pipe or sanitary drain where there is a risk to health or safety or a risk of significant water wastage; replacing leaking tap washers, spindles, handles and shower roses; and replacing P-traps and S-traps in wastepipes under sinks, basins or troughs where access to the P-trap or S-trap is easy.

To carry out work under the scheme, the environmental health worker must hold an appropriate qualification in environmental health and have completed some basic plumbing units of competency. These will be specified in the Plumbing Regulations. The environmental health worker must also be employed or engaged by a service provider that has a contract with the Department of Health to provide environmental health services to remote Aboriginal communities.

The list of eligible remote Aboriginal communities will be published on the Building Commission’s website and will comprise the 274 communities across WA that have been determined to be a ‘remote or very remote Aboriginal community’ by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

The deployment of a new plumbing inspector from the Plumbers Licensing Board in Broome will assist with ensuring compliance with the new scheme and in providing information and guidance on its operation. The new inspector will also undertake compliance and enforcement activities in relation to plumbing work carried out more broadly in the Kimberley and Pilbara.

View the decision paper.

Building and Energy
Department News
05 Dec 2016

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