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Sewer worker’s invention saves Welsh Water thousands

20/04/2016
  • Invention to remove sewer blockages will save the company thousands of pounds
  • Toolkit developed by sewer operative outside his working time
  • New toolkit could improve services for customers across the water industry

A Welsh Water employee from Tonteg is saving the company thousands of pounds and improving services for 1.4 million customers, all from his own garden shed.

Geraint Williams, who works as a Sewer Operative for Welsh Water, in south Wales, has helped the company save over £100,000 in just six months by inventing and using tools to retrieve items that block the sewers. And Welsh Water’s not-for-profit model means the savings made go back into the company to benefit customers.

Welsh Water own 30,000km of sewers across their operating area - enough to stretch to Australia and back - but blocked sewers are a major problem and cost the company over £7 million pounds a year to clear. They cause misery to customers, damage to homes and businesses, and can pollute rivers, beaches and the wider environment.

The tools, which Geraint made at home in his shed in Tonteg, help his colleagues to retrieve items from the sewer more quickly and efficiently, reducing the need to dig up customers’ properties and gardens or public roads to reach blockages.

Geraint, 44, who worked in Sales and as a Warehouse Manager before joining Welsh Water four years ago, explains: “My job involves looking after the sewerage network and going out to blockages which customers have reported.

“I was quite shocked to see that there were things in the pipes, maybe just three or four metres down which we couldn’t reach. We had to mark them up for another crew to come along behind us to dig them out of the ground because we couldn’t reach them with the tools we had. I wanted to find a way to resolve the problem quickly for customers.”

Geraint and his colleagues find all sorts of items blocking the sewers in the course of their day-to-day job. From the everyday build ups of wet wipes and nappies that have been incorrectly flushed or cement washed down the drain after building work, to more unexpected items, such as a rucksack and pair of trainers and a mop head strainer stuck in the sewer under a customer’s kitchen.

Before Geraint invented his toolkit, the team couldn’t always reach the items with the existing tools on the market, meaning they often had to dig down to reach the blockage. This could mean digging up a customer’s garden or even inside their home, or causing inconvenience to road users, by digging up roads and footways.

Geraint found himself thinking about the problems well after he had left the job: “I used to go home and think about the trickiest problems while sitting in the bath. I would play them through in my mind and then go into the shed and make a tool that could reach the blockage.”

Geraint has now made seven tools, which through Welsh Water’s support, has resulted in the filing of seven patent applications.

Welsh Water is now working with Geraint to get the tools manufactured and distributed. By rolling them out to all of Welsh Water’s sewerage teams across Wales and Herefordshire, it is estimated that they could save the not-for-profit company up to £1 million per year. If the tools prove a success they could be rolled out across the water industry too.

Geraint has received praise inside and outside of the company for his work and is already picking up awards, winning a National Water Industry Awards for his inventions.

Welsh Water’s Managing Director of Wastewater Steve Wilson: “Sewer blockages on the wastewater network are the biggest cause of pollution incidents and can lead to flooding of properties and cause pollution to the local environment. They are often a huge inconvenience to customers so we do all we can to prevent blockages or get them resolved as soon as possible.

“The tools Geraint has produced have made a significant difference to our customers, helping us to improve our services, protect the environment and resolve blockages more quickly.”

Geraint thanks Welsh Water for their support in the process: “Luckily I’ve been given the freedom by Welsh Water to make the tools. The company can see the impact blockages are having on the cost to the business and savings it brings and at the end of the day, the customer is number one priority for Welsh Water.”

Welsh Water is committed to encouraging innovation to help protect the environment, keep bills low and provide an improved service for customers. The company is open to hearing from local companies that have products or services to help us do this. Find out more at dwrcymru.com/innovation.

Ends

Geraint is available for interviews. Please contact contact Welsh Water’s press office on 01443 452105 to arrange or for more information. Alternatively email press@dwrcymru.com

Notes to Editor

  • Over the past 12 months Welsh Water has invested nearly £9 in science and innovation projects that will help improve services for customers and protect the environment
  • Welsh Water’s campaign ‘Let’s Stop the Block’ aims to transform our customers’ behaviours when it comes to putting things down the toilet and disposing of fats, oils and grease.