How To Properly Train a Pipeline Cleaning Operator

How To Properly Train a Pipeline Cleaning Operator
There are no shortcuts when it comes to training. Careful planning and in-depth training will help prepare an effective pipeline cleaning operator. (Photo by Jason Doiy)

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A successful pipeline cleaning program requires three important ingredients: a quality combination unit, efficient nozzles and an effective cleaning operator. The first two can easily be purchased from a quality dealer, but the third one is a little more difficult to come by. 

Too often, need trumps logic when agencies and contractors settle for unqualified cleaning operator candidates. If an operator has a Class A or B license and is willing to work around sewers, that’s often enough to get them hired. 

The pipeline cleaning operator position is important, especially when poor performance can have such devastating consequences. An inept cleaning operator can cause a multitude of problems and cost an employer serious money. One of the biggest concerns is that substandard cleaning can result in sanitary sewer overflows that can cost millions of dollars in fines. Backups in homes and businesses can also be costly and affect an employer’s reputation. 

Proper selection is key

Selecting the right candidate is an important decision that will determine the success or failure of your pipeline cleaning program. When choosing a candidate, consider intelligence and aptitude as well as mechanical ability, which is critical for maintaining equipment. 

Finally, you must weigh a candidate’s attitude and maturity. This might be difficult to determine, but it can make or break the situation. You're investing a lot of time and money into the candidate’s training, so selecting the right individual is critical. 

The best way to train a candidate is through example, so assign a seasoned and well-qualified cleaning operator as the trainer. The candidate will emulate the trainer’s knowledge and commitment, as well as good and bad habits, so make the decision wisely. 

Training can be broken down into four areas: theory, methodology, maintenance and application. 

Theory, although important, is often neglected in training. During this phase, a candidate learns how jetting and vacuuming works. The candidate must first learn about the configuration of a combination unit, its individual components and how they interrelate. He must clearly understand psi, gpm, cfm and vacuum, both positive displacement and fan and identify what these determinations are for each vehicle. 

The candidate needs to understand various jet angles and be able to identify the proper use of each. Demonstrate how lower angles are designed for thrust and the movement of material while higher angles are used for cleaning and scouring pipe walls. 

Methodology covers the process of cleaning pipe and vacuuming up material. This area of training covers water tanks, debris tanks, fans or PDs, boom, vacuum tubes, hose, hose reel and how they work together to move high-pressure water down the line and vacuum material. In this training phase, discuss the process of cleaning pipe in detail so the candidate will understand how to properly sweep pipe. 

Protecting the hose should be a major point of discussion, and you must emphasize the use of tiger tails and downhole rollers. Also, you should demonstrate the correct way to place the hose on the reel so it is protected. 

With today’s advanced nozzles, it is critical that candidates understand nozzle technology and use nozzles properly. In most situations a single nozzle isn’t sufficient, so teach your candidate that cleaning effectively requires various nozzles. 

Maintenance is also a critical part of training. During this phase, the candidate will learn how to care for equipment on the combination unit. Address critical maintenance needs, such as filters, because neglect of these procedures can result in costly repairs. Begin by detailing maintenance expectations on a daily, weekly and monthly basis on the engine, the auxiliary engine and the jetter and vacuum equipment. 

Every manufacturer provides a detailed maintenance manual. Unfortunately, few people ever look at it. As part of your training requirements, make sure your candidate goes over the manuals from cover to cover. 

Teach your candidate that there is no compromise when it comes to maintenance and enforce that procedures must be followed consistently and meticulously. A new hire must understand the consequences of poor maintenance and the monetary cost of neglect. 

Application training occurs when your candidate begins putting knowledge to the test. During this phase, your candidate should begin cleaning pipe under close supervision. This phase can vary from candidate to candidate, but it should not be rushed. Instead, this is an opportunity for the trainer to ensure the new hire is well prepared and ready to clean effectively. 

During the training process, maintain a checklist and cross off milestones. This also ensures that you don’t miss important points, and it provides a valuable guide when evaluating a candidate’s progress. 

There are no shortcuts when it comes to training. Careful planning and in-depth training will help prepare an effective pipeline cleaning operator. 

A candidate’s attentiveness and willingness to learn peak during the initial employment phase. Take advantage of this time, instruct your hew hire properly, and you’ll create a first-class pipeline cleaning operator.   

About the Author

Jim Aanderud is owner of Innerline Engineering, a video pipeline inspection company based in Corona, Calif.


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