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STP - Safety Protocols – No room for Complacency!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018, 12:15 Hrs  [IST]

While the debate on the rationale of clubbing hotels with other hazardous industries in the ‘Red’ category under the Central Pollution norms can continue, the recent fatal incidents involving hotel STPs in Delhi and Bengaluru is a grim reminder about the hidden danger of an ill-maintained STP and its fall out on hospitality industry’s overall image. Hospitality Biz tries to bring together views on the caution that has to be observed while handling STPs in hotels.

It’s a fact that hotel of any size or stature generates wastewater based on its volume of activity. While bigger star-category hotels with more number of rooms, multiple kitchens, laundry unit and other facilities generates gallons of wastewater per day, lower category hotels having lesser number of rooms without own pantry or laundry, etc. produces less wastewater. As per the size and stature of the property, the government agencies or the regulators have stipulated certain controls. They have divided industries into three different categories – Green, Orange and Red – as per the quantum of emission or sewage produced – and prescribed systems to control it before being let out into the open or drain. So, such units are mandated to have Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) to treat waste water at their premise.

While a small Guest House below 50 rooms do not have a full-fledged kitchen or laundry units, etc. they are not required to have STP, but hotels above that with kitchens and inhouse laundry are required to have STP within. A hotel STP system must meet environmental regulations specific to the location of the hotel ensuring that the system does not harm the local environment and does not pollute the water bodies around it. As per the classification, hotels up to 4-star fall under the ‘orange’ category, and hotels above it, broadly 5-star and 5-star deluxe, etc. are categorised under the ‘Red’ category of extremely polluting industries.

While hotel industry by and large grumbles about such negative posturing, it cannot shrug off the blame totally. It was last year when the National Green Tribunal (NGT) penalised large number of luxury hotels in the National Capital, Delhi with hefty penalties for violating pollution control norms.

A Vital Solution
STPs are a vital component of the system and investing in a smart wastewater treatment solution can bring in lot of benefits for large scale water guzzlers like hotels. The used water which would otherwise drained into the sewage lines, can be treated and reused, adding to the overall sustainability. This is quite critical as potable water and its sources are getting polluted and water table in many cities touching rock bottom due to over exploitation. However, how many are investing in smart technology, which of course, comes at a premium. And how many really take serious interest in maintenance and upkeep of these systems to deliver the output in a consistent manner? Selecting the most apt and efficient system matters a lot. While doing so, a lot of users tend to focus only on the capital cost and not as much on the life cycle costs of the technology spread over time.

STP Aeration Tank

Madhuri Jalan, Head- Business Operations, Seamak Group, one of the leading water management companies in the country, feels that had we treated all our waste water at source and then let out, our water bodies which were once lifelines, we would not have the current ignominy. The issues are manifold. She says, “There are various issues that are associated with wastewater treatment plants or STPs. First concern being the monetary value. Businesses want to save every penny even though it comes at a price of our environment. Even though we install the best of treatment technologies for the STPs, people fail to comply with the maintenance part that results in mishap and accidents. The failure to provide the basic provisions for the STP results in poor maintenance and eventually untreated water being let out.”

As per a report, Indian cities produce around 40,000 million ltrs of sewage per day. Estimates suggest that around 10% of this sewage is generated from the hotel industry. It is a fact that although businesses set up STPs to meet the mandatory provisions which is integral for the final operational approvals, these systems are not properly maintained or updated with the times and technology advancements. It is only when some accidents happen that agencies wake up to the challenges. It took few deaths of manual scavengers in STPs in Bangalore city recently for the civic authorities there to seek proper registration of STP plants in the city and its proper audit.

A similar accident stuck in a hotel in the heart of Delhi where few employees involved in the maintenance of the STP lost life, creating a hue and cry about safety protocols being followed there.

Safety Protocols
There are well-defined Safety Protocols that are needed to be followed while handling closed/concealed STP tanks, say Engineering experts. According to Anil Kumar, Director – Engineering, The Imperial New Delhi it is important to identify the hazards and potential accidents and develop ways to eliminate the hazards and prevent potential accidents. “The steps or activities involved in STP occupation safety analysis involves review of job methods that identify hazards with corrective action, resulting in a safer and more efficient way to do a job. Once job hazards are discovered, proper solutions can be developed. Some solutions take the form of physical changes that minimise or control job hazards like stopping manual labour/scavenging, using machine guards, Barrier caution tape, covering tank openings and more. Other solutions consist of changes in job procedures that eliminate or minimise hazards like using mask, Helmet while working in confined spaces for more safety. All factors such as quality control, availability of Personnel protection Equipment (PPE) production and safety must be included in the analysis because all of them contribute to a more efficient operation,” he added.

Giving brief outline of the safety protocols being followed when something goes wrong with the STPs, Pradeep Menon, Chief Engineer, The Oberoi Grand Kolkata said, “The safety requirements include proper lighting of the space, the lid covering the space should be removed 24-48 Hrs before the activity and then pressurised ventilation system to be provided to remove harmful gases. This ventilation system to be continuously ON throughout the cleaning process. After the same is properly ventilated, the confined space has to be checked for oxygen levels continuously and the same should be in the range of 17% to 21% of Oxygen. If it falls below 16.5%, heart rate increases and person begins to lose co-ordination. At 11% oxygen levels, the person experiences nausea, vomiting, inability to move and becomes unconscious.” It is also important that the maintenance workers are all in safety gears and there is continuous external coordination.

Scope of Manual Scavenging
With technology making inroads into all areas of life and industry, how much the modern STP machines demand manual intervention? Do they give any scope for manual scavenging? Madhuri of Semak believes that the modern STP systems have been able to reduce the human intervention to a large extent and do not give scope to manual scavenging. “STPs have modernised from past to very advanced technologies. Some of the technologies not only help in saving space but also reduce the human interference. Remote monitoring of the system and complete automation of the plants once done can help in day-to-day monitoring of the plant form office space. Although these technologies come at a cost, the return on investment is more if we look at performance of plant, cost of operations, etc. We have fully automated systems such as MBR with remote sensors system that can work to reduce the manpower load but no STP can run without manpower,” she informs.

Modern STP systems are quite advanced compared to conventional systems, agrees Ranjit Shirgaonkar, Chief Engineer, The Orchid Mumbai. “The modern STP has better systems. In this system manual labour is not required as compared to the old STP. The modern plants have better area tin system grease trap with oil removal. Only bar screen cleaning manual is used in the system. The water quality in the new system is superior. The system maintenance too is also low.”

“I don’t see any scope for manual labour/scavenging as it is a risk of life. In modern STP system we get the same done mechanically as it is safe for worker and it also saves time and money,” confirms Anil Kumar of The Imperial Delhi.

Menon also confirms that there is less scope for manual labour in the modern STPs. “Modern plants are technologically superior and generally have a sludge holding tank with a provision to remove this accumulated sludge using jet suction vans authorised by the local municipal authorities on pollution control board guidelines, for transfer to earmarked land filling sites.” Modern Submerged Aerobic Fixed Film (SAFF systems) Membrane Bio Reactor (MBR Systems) Moving Bed Biofilm Reactor (MBBR Systems) are quite superior, he informed.

Outsourcing of STP maintenance
Such incidents definitely point fingers at the trend of outsourcing of non-core activities in hotels to certain extent. STP being a highly important activity of hotels, can it be outsourced to companies or agencies. The industry is divided on the issue. “The most important factor is the life of the person involved, whether it’s an outsourced or an in house team. This can be done by maintaining physical condition of the plant, Health & Safety Trainings, Accident Prevention Talks, Communication identification of hazards and by corrective action,” observes Anil Kumar.

It is always recommended that the STP operation and maintenance is carried out by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) or it authorised representative so that plant can be run as per designed parameters and give the desired output performance parameters, opines Menon.

Shirgaonkar supports outsourcing of the operations and maintenance of STP. He feels that it will make sure the plant is “always functional with proper output” and without break down.

The key challenge in hotels according to Madhuri is that they do not take into account the actual installed capacity of the plant. Plants are designed to treat a specific inlet load, and over-loading would lead to problems. “When a wastewater treatment plant is installed in a residential sector or industry it caters to specific type of inlet load and can be treated. Wherein the common mistake the hotels STP does is that they don’t account for the kitchen waste that will also be added into their STPs this result in improper treatment of STP. Also, Hotels usually have less space allocated to STPs. The water consumption is generally unpredictable for hotels.”

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