Health workers now on tap for remote communities

Legislative changes that allow trained Environmental Health Workers (EHWs) to undertake emergency plumbing repairs are paying dividends in remote Aboriginal communities, where licensed plumbers and other tradies are few and far between.

Recent changes to the Plumber Licensing and Plumbing Standards Regulations 2000 now allow basic emergency plumbing repairs to be carried out by EHWs in remote Aboriginal communities.

The Department of Health’s Environmental Health Directorate, in partnership with Empower Education, provides a 10-week Certificate II training program for EHWs. The course covers basic plumbing repair skills including leaking or stuck taps, blocked showerheads, blocked drains and running toilets.

Chief Health Officer Professor Tarun Weeramanthri said that the changes were a positive step in improving health within communities.

“Until recently, regular maintenance to plumbing fixtures and hardware in remote homes has been difficult due to isolation and the associated cost of transporting a licensed plumber to remote communities,” he said.

“The plumbing faults that result from this can limit access to functional washing facilities and increase exposure to wastewater products in the home, leading to a heightened risk of wastewater-related diseases.

“Under the legislative changes, non-plumbers who are suitably trained and working in environmental health, can attend to basic plumbing or emergency repairs in remote communities when access to a qualified plumber is difficult.”

The Irrungadji Aboriginal Community near the small Pilbara town of Nullagine is one community that has benefitted from the involvement of EHWs working on basic plumbing faults.

Water consumption in the town, though traditionally high, had doubled during 2015/16, with its average water use climbing to 87,312 litres per day.

Environmental health trainees completed a wide range of plumbing repairs in the community over several weeks, under the supervision of plumbing contractors and as part of their training with Empower Education.

Repairs performed by the licensed plumber and trainees led to an immediate 87 per cent reduction in community water use. Average daily consumption fell from more than 87,000 litres a day to 10,672 litres a day.

The repairs also led to significant cost savings and reduced risk of water-borne disease and illness.