Community & Environment

It’s a smelly situation

Jan Pingol and Srean Poung have gradually become somewhat immune to the smells wafting from beneath the city’s manhole covers.

The duo work for the Council’s Trade Waste Compliance Team – roles which require them to monitor discharges into the city’s wastewater network made by industry, manufacturers and hospitality sector businesses.

That means looking at grease traps or wastewater pre-treatment systems from which some seriously questionable odours may emerge.

“We don’t really notice it, but in the summer sun, when you’re right there looking into it…yeah, the smell can get pretty horrible!” Srean says. “We do get used to it, I don’t even gag or anything!”

“We actually can use that (smell) as a tool,” Jan says.

Stinky smells are part of the job, and one Jan and Srean are committed to. As part of a team, they see their roles as protecting the city’s wastewater network – including the Pukete Wastewater Treatment Plant – and from people who could potentially cause blockages and damage, or worse still, compromise the biological processes Pukete undertakes before the water is discharged into the river.

“We monitor businesses that could potentially cause issues for our network and our plant,” Srean says.

Jan says the breadth and variety of businesses they visit is vast – hairdressers, takeaway food retailers, ice cream cone manufacturers, car wash facilities, electroplaters plants (businesses where metal items are cleaned, polished and chromed) and even meat and dairy processors. They visit between 10 and 15 businesses a week to carry out inspections and liaise with business operators.

If there is any kind of liquid waste coming from a commercial operation, Jan and Srean and the rest of the Trade Waste Compliance team need to be aware of what it is.

Although there is a vital compliance and enforcement aspect to their roles, Jan and Srean prefer to take an educational approach in dealing with customers, ensuring business owners and managers understand what they are permitted to put into the network.

Some situations require a conflict resolution skill set and language barriers can be very frustrating for our customers. Jan and Srean sometimes have to work a little harder to make sure customers with English as a Second Language understand what they are trying to achieve.

Communicating with a wide variety of people, de-escalating tense situations and conflict resolution are parts of the skill set Jan and Srean both possess. Jan says their preference is always to work with the business owner or manager to get the best outcomes for the wastewater network and treatment plant.

“If you want to start up a business in the city, discharging into our network, you’ve got to work through a particular process – and that can be quite overwhelming for some customers. We want to make sure we can help make that as easy as possible,” says Jan.

“We want to work with them as much as possible. I often say to them ‘hey, are you happy for that (liquid waste) to go into the river?’ and they’re shocked I brought it up… and from experience, once you say that to customers, they become very understanding.”

The way they deliver the message is also important, says Srean. “It’s all about educating them and trying to find a way for them to understand. We need to get that messaging out there, to everybody, in plain English. We’re really not that scary, we’re here to help!”

Jan and Srean deal with external and internal customers such as the Hamilton Pools. They also work collaboratively with other teams within the Council such as Building Control and Environmental Health to ensure the customer experience is as smooth as possible.

The Council’s Trade Waste Compliance operation is part of a Shared Services agreement between Hamilton City Council, Waipa District Council and Waikato District Council, which sees Jan and Srean visit sites beyond Hamilton’s civic borders.

“That means we’re employed by Hamilton City Council, but we do undertake similar tradewaste management functions for the other partner councils,” explains Jan.

Jan and Srean started their roles at the same time, in 2012, shortly after the Shared Services agreement was implemented. Srean transferred to the position from a previous role in Customer Services, while Jan holds a Bachelor of Science from Waikato University. Both have had to do plenty of “on the job” learning as technology and regulations change.

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