For as long as I can remember, there has been a debate about whether we need council plumbing inspectors. After all, there is no such thing as council building inspectors anymore or electrical or gas inspectors. Plumbers in Queensland are the only licensed trade still legally obligated to have work inspected by the local council plumbing inspector.
In reality, Queensland is the only state in Australia still with council plumbing inspectors. All other states now only have audits of work undertaken which depend on the honesty and integrity of the plumbers lodging the correct paperwork.
With the amendments to the Plumbing and Drainage Act 2002 coming into effect in Queensland in November, I believe we will have the best of all worlds. We will still have council plumbing inspectors, but their role will change to allow them to concentrate on ensuring new buildings are fully compliant, plus undertaking much more audit work.
The most significant improvement will be that much of the work on existing buildings will become notifiable, meaning that it can be undertaken without a council permit or inspection. This will reduce red tape and fees dramatically, plus speed up the ability of work being launched, as there will be no waiting of 2-4 weeks for applications to be processed and approved.
Of course, these improvements will only benefit plumbing companies that already obey the law and ensure they undertake work in a compliant manner. It will make no difference to those plumbers who have refused to comply with the law and lodge no paperwork. Likewise, it will make no difference to those without plumbing licenses who undertake plumbing work.
In recent years I have undertaken projects in Asia based in Singapore, where we have an office specialising in advanced hot water systems and sustainability products such as waterless urinals. Having returned from Singapore this week, I am reminded why we need plumbing inspectors because there is no sense in having world class laws and regulations when there are no audits or inspections of the work to ensure the plumbing systems are compliant.
Above is a photo of a 25-litre hot water service installation in a bathroom in an apartment worth around $1.75 million in downtown Singapore. This would have been installed as part of the building construction and is impossible to maintain without completely disconnecting as the element and thermostat face into the wall. Even more concerning is that the relief valve does not discharge into a tundish but onto the floor.
This scenario is not unusual in Singapore, as there are no plumbing inspections. Although similar to Australia, buildings are constructed to a cost, not to a standard but at least in Queensland, with council plumbing inspectors undertaking inspections at all stages of a building’s construction, building owners can be assured that the plumbing and drainage installations are compliant and of a high standard.
On the Gold Coast, it is to be hoped that the GCCC plumbing inspectors embrace the reforms and improve their track record for “interpretations” of both the legislation and the Australian standards.
Ultimately local council plumbing inspectors are a critical part of the system in protecting public health and safety, and a well-run council plumbing inspectors department benefits the community as a whole.