Protection from the unknowns

In December 2013 Watermark Services Group (WSG) received NATA accreditation for In-Services Verification, Inspection and testing.

Based in the inner-Sydney suburb of Glebe, WSG is a hydraulic and fire consultancy company providing design, inspection and testing services to the construction and property industry.

Neil McPherson is the company’s NATA Authorised Representative. 

With over 35 years of acquired knowledge in plumbing, Neil has held the positions of Licenced Plumber, Plumbing Inspector for Sydney Water, and Plumbing Teacher/Head Teacher at TAFE NSW, followed by 10 years in manufacturing, holding the position of Product/Technical Manager with both MM Kembla and OneSteel, and Director of Watermark Product Solutions.

Scott McPherson, who is also a partner in the business, has already accumulated more than 17 years of knowledge in the Plumbing, Hydraulics and Fire Services industries and has extensive project design experience including residential, commercial building including scientific laboratories, quarantine facilities and industrial developments. Scott has worked in London and Dubai with international engineering companies on a variety of projects, from fit-outs to large mixed-use developments. 

Neil says the increasing complexity of plumbing and fire systems and materials, together with the increasing variety of product types and purposes is leading to a growing number of expensive errors in building construction and maintenance.

“Today there’s such a variety of piping materials, fittings, joining methods, valves and systems including electronic controls that it’s very difficult for those working in the industry to keep abreast of them all. Understanding the requirements for all the various products and their associated specifications and limitations is exhausting.

“The selection of incorrect materials, products and installation methods for a specific purpose is costing much more than most people realise.

“Imagine designing a structure as complex as a public hospital. The plumbing and fire service systems must be designed and installed to work perfectly from the commissioning and must continue working 24/7 without failure. People’s lives depend on it. 

“Remember that once the structure’s built these systems are mostly out of sight and difficult if not impossible to inspect and or repair.”

Neil says the National Construction Code (NCC) that incorporates the Plumbing Code of Australia (PCA) allows for a ‘Deemed-to-Satisfy’ provision as well as permitting flexibility to develop ‘Alternative Solutions’ based on innovated buildings, products and systems or design.

“In 1980 there were around 180 plumbing inspectors in Sydney. Now there are only 17. 

“The states, territories and local authorities have been allowed to step away from the day to day responsibility of routine inspections. The plumber has now become the person responsible for the design, installation, testing and commissioning of all plumbing services work.

“The security of inspection and checking the plumber’s work is no longer available today with some states only inspecting 5 to 25 per cent of installations.” 

This is where Watermark Services Group can assesses the building owners’ engineering documentation of proposed hydraulic and fire services during the design stages and during construction of a building and provide an independent and unbiased review of the systems. 

WSG can assist the client to design systems for hydraulic and fire services and also offers independent Design Verification. 

Design Verification is a detailed evaluation process to ensure that the proposed system will meet the client’s needs and also complies with all statutory regulations including the applicable Australian Standards.

“Design Verification takes into account the levels of WaterMark certification for plumbing products based on their associated risk. 

“For example, products that form part of a water supply pressure system are perceived to be a higher risk than that of drainage pipes and fittings. All products in a system must have an appropriate level of certification.”

He notes that WSG bases its inspections solely on industry standards: “We remain objective and only impose the applicable Australian plumbing standards. We don’t cross over that line.” 

“We say: ‘Our independence is your solution’. There’s no risk of conflict or unbiased influences.”

Neil feels one of the company’s biggest challenges is to involve industry – suppliers, designers, installers and inspectors, to work together for the benefit of the customer - the end users of the system. 

“I like to engage with plumbers and work with them at the beginning of a project. My aim is to be of assistance to the plumber, not to be seen as a threat or competitor.”

“It’s an educational process, to engage industry to understand and accept NATA and accreditation for the inspection and testing of hydraulic services.

“Inspection work is both proactive and reactive. Proactive is working with developers and institutions to inspect finished designs or executed work under construction.

“The reactive side is serving as an expert witness in legal cases as well as inspecting built systems.

“The NATA brand is well-recognised in many industries and it really helps in my work as an expert witness. In fact, I would like to see accreditation for our industry to self-regulate around the principles of NATA.”

Neil tells his customers that if they have any doubts about the design of hydraulic or fire services at any phase of a project, they should ask for an independent assessment.