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Education and training is a vital element of the Austrian water sector, improving the quality of the service

 

Water engineer

 

Austria has two associations in the water service sector: the Austrian Association for Gas and Water (ÖVGW) and the Austrian Water and Waste Management Association (ÖWAV).

ÖVGW has a long history. Founded in 1881, this non-profit organisation represents Austrian water supply industries and their associated sectors. Its core concern is ensuring that research and development in gas and water supply remain at the cutting edge of science and technology. Currently, 250 drinking water utility operators are members of ÖVGW.

ÖVGW is the sole association for the Austrian drinking water sector, representing the interests of the water supply sector.

Among its many tasks, ÖVGW compiles rules and guidelines for the gas and water sectors. As a platform for information sharing, ÖVGW communicates the work of water utility operators and raises awareness for drinking water related issues among the public.

Furthermore, ÖVGW supports research and development projects in collaboration with research departments and universities and offers certification of persons and products as well as further education and training.

With more than 2.000 member organisations, ÖWAV represents the entire Austrian water and waste management sector. ÖWAV is a non-profit organisation and is, therefore, considered as an ‘independent counsellor’ with the goal of achieving sustainable water, waste water and waste management objectives in Austria.

The main objectives of ÖWAV are qualification and quality management in water and waste management and the balance of information and interests, both internally and externally.

 

A glimpse of drinking water supply in Austria

Austria is rich in high-quality drinking water resources, with 50% coming from groundwater and 50% from spring water resources. Surface water is not used as a drinking water resource.

Austria’s drinking water sector is heterogeneous, with more than 5.000 small-scale water utilities providing essentially untreated drinking water to 7 million centrally supplied inhabitants (90% of the population). The remaining 10% are off the main grid (self-supplied).

The majority of drinking water suppliers are local municipalities (69%). Ten per cent of drinking water utilities are run by water cooperations and another 11% are managed by water unions. Austrian drinking water suppliers regularly monitor drinking water quality and operations.

 

Administration

National and federal state levels are responsible for drinking water and waste water-related issues. At the national level, the Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management are responsible for environmental regulations, while the Ministry of Health monitors drinking water quality.

The nine federal state governments grant water permits and are responsible for the technical inspection of water utilities. There is no water regulator in Austria.

 

Legal situation

Austria joined the European Union in 1995, therefore adopting EU legislation. Austria transposed the EU Drinking Water Directive in 1998, which regulates drinking water quality, amending the Austrian Drinking Water Act.

In 2000, the EU Water Framework Directive was also transposed into the Austrian Water Act, regulating technical requirements, water permits and the protection of the country’s water resources.

The EU Drinking Water Directive defines standards for water for human consumption (drinking water), which must not be undermined by national legislation. However, Member States may define national standards, which supplement EU standards.

Austrian authorities took advantage of the opportunity to include a passage requiring that personnel operating drinking water utilities were to be specially educated and trained in water supplying technical matters and hygiene in order to safeguard proper management and safe drinking water quality.

 

Education and training programmes for personnel in the drinking water sector

Until 1970, when ÖVGW launched its first seminars for drinking water utility operators, there was no dedicated education and training programme. Thus, ÖVGW seminars for ‘water masters’ was the first programme of its kind to educate and train drinking water utility personnel.

From 1971-73, 140 people passed the water master exam, a prerequisite to calling themselves ‘water master’. Back then, the course book had 24 chapters with 300 pages.

Anticipating the need from its members, mostly very smallscale water suppliers, ÖVGW introduced another education programme for small water utilities – the ‘water guard’ – in 1973. At that time, the course book contained 110 pages. In 1979, the education programme for water masters was developed further, introducing training courses with lecturers who had practical experience: microbiologists, chemists and other water utility operators.

With more than 20 years’ experience in training water masters, ÖVGW decided to apply for accreditation at the Austrian accreditation authority, the Ministry of Economics, to certify personnel according to EN ISO 17024 in 1999. External auditors regularly confirm that ÖVGW fulfils the requirements.

In total, ÖVGW offers three types of education and training programmes. These are:

  1. Basic training courses that take one day, providing general knowledge about the technical background and documentation duties of water quality and addressing operators of suppliers of less than 10m³ per day.
  2. Water guard courses, customised for utility operators providing more than 10m³, lasting for three days.
  3. Five-day water master courses, with lectures on water quality, water treatment, construction, engineering and management, and tailored for water operators that provide over 100m³ per day. ÖVGW is accredited to offer water master courses and to grant certificates.

Every education programme is customised to the needs of its target group, reflecting different organisational structures and levels of complexity of water distribution systems.

 

Education and training of water masters at ÖVGW

ÖVGW guideline W10 describes the conditions for the examination of water masters for obtaining a water master certificate, according to EN ISO 17024. It comprises requirements for candidates, auditors, exams, training and continuous training.

ÖVGW’s education and training committee is responsible for the course book and its contents. The course book summarises all relevant up-to-date information, relevant legal requirements, rules, guidelines and standards. The course book is under permanent review and regularly updated in accordance with the relevant authorities. The trainers must have many years of professional experience in the drinking water sector.

In order to receive the water master certificate, applicants have to pass a written exam at the end of the five-day course. The exam is valid for five years. Water masters can prolong the certificate for five more years if they have continuous training within the period of validity and pass an exam for prolongation. ÖVGW’s event department organises water master courses. Its varied tasks range from registration and training schedules to billing.

ÖVGW’s certification department keeps a record of water masters, information on continuous training, results of exams and the expiration dates of certificates. The number of educated personnel in the drinking water sector has been rising ever since. In November 2016, there were 1.985 certified water masters.

In 2002, the Austrian Ministry of Health acknowledged that ÖVGW education and training programmes are in accordance with the requirements of the Austrian Drinking Water Act. However, water masters are not an individual professional category according to commercial law.

ÖVGW has all the relevant up-to-date information on standards, legal requirements, state-of-the-art technologies and direct feedback on professional experiences. This enables ÖVGW to offer high-quality education and training programmes for water utility operators and professionals in the drinking water sector.

Therefore, well-trained and highly educated personnel in water utility companies help to improve the quality of service, hence contributing to the high standards and excellent drinking water quality.

 

Training in waste water system management at ÖWAV

The apprenticeship as a skilled worker in sewage management is divided into two main working areas:

~ A technician working at waste water treatment plants.

~ A sewer system operator. The training for both of these takes place over a period of three years.

Waste water treatment technicians attend two weeks of practical training, three weeks in a basic course, one week in a laboratory course, one week in mechanical engineering, one week in electrical engineering, three days on a measurement technology course and one week in an advanced course in current issues before they sit an exam.

Sewer system operators attend one week of practical training, a one week basic course, three days in a sewer cleaning course, one week on a survey and restoration course, one week on an operational management and maintenance course, a one week electrical engineering course and an advanced course in current issues before they sit an exam.

The waste water treatment technicians and the sewer operator are able to manage waste water treatment plants and sewer systems by the end of their training. They are also able to maintain and service machinery, evaluate and report breakdowns, perform minor repairs, evaluate safety, health and hygiene issues on the factory premises, handle treatment, re-utilisation or removal of accumulating waste materials, and document and monitor performed measurements and operations.

Above all, the technician learns all aspects of the proper and efficient operational management of a waste water treatment plant or sewer system. In order to provide a comprehensive and practice-oriented advanced training apart from the basic training, a Neighbourhood of Waste Water Treatment Plant and Sewer System Operators Network was established. Here, participants receive substantial information, technical literature and necessary working aids.

 

Conclusion

ÖVGW and ÖWAV are long-established associations in the water service sector. When it comes to professional training for personnel in drinking and waste water services, fostering knowledge and expertise is the main aim, not commercial motives. Both associations are non-profit organisations working mostly in an honorary capacity.

Education and training are an essential element of the Austrian water setup. Know-how and experience are seen as a prerequisite for high-quality services in the water service sector. In general, the water supply and sanitation staff in Austria are highly qualified and staff turnover is generally low

 

By Anna Pomassl, Drinking Water Expert, ÖVGW and Clemens Steidl, Head of Waste Water Management, ÖWAV

Read more in Water Matters.

 

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