8 Ways to Prepare for Wastewater Season

If your lab performs wastewater testing, you know that thawing rivers and warming bays means bodies of water everywhere will soon receive streams of effluent, signaling the start of wastewater season. The influx of testing to ensure environmental protections might include biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids, bacteriological analysis, and physical properties. Requests for on-site sampling services may come along with testing.

Although these demands can create chaos in some labs, preparing now and setting customer expectations can keep your operation running smoothly. Follow these eight tips to survive the season.

1. Know Your Capacity

From the outset, you should know your capacity, or the maximum number of samples you can analyze in a given time period — whether it's an hour, a day, or a week. You may also need to adjust for the specific tests you're performing and any limitations that could rapidly diminish capacity, like poorly maintained equipment, staff time off, or tangled workflows.

2. Perform Preventive Maintenance

Before you plunge into wastewater season, shut down your analyzers for regular preventive maintenance. Murphy's Law ensures the most critical instruments will go down when your test load reaches a maximum. If you wait until instruments break down, you'll pay more for complicated repairs, replacement parts, expedited shipping, overtime, missed deadlines and, ultimately, damage to your lab's reputation.

3. Make Sampling Foolproof

If your team members perform the sampling, you'll have greater peace of mind, but if your customers handle it, you should go out of your way to make the process as foolproof as possible, with ample guidance, clear instructions, and tip sheets. You must be confident that samples were collected, preserved, and stored properly before arriving at your lab.

4. Create a Contingency Plan

Lab Manager recommends always having a lab-specific contingency plan in place to manage instrument or system failure, missing staff, or short hold times. Your contingency plan should help you identify and understand risks, as well as provide your team clear guidance on how to respond if a problem arises. The plan relevant to each piece of equipment should be kept with it, so staff will immediately know what to do.

5. Invest in a Lab Information Management System

Paper-based lab management systems can reduce capacity and contribute to errors and inefficiency. Transcribing instrument values to paper notebooks opens the door for human error and transposition, according to Lab Manager. This is where a laboratory information management system (LIMS) can help you do more with less.

A LIMS can reduce data entry errors, streamline QA/QC, improve record-keeping and speed up turnaround time, increasing efficiency in labs of all sizes. For example, if you log and assign bar codes to samples as they're collected, they'll arrive at your lab documented and prepped for testing. On top of that, a LIMS gives you broader access to the data whenever and wherever you need it.

6. Upgrade Work Processes

Matching sample arrival with the right expertise can prove challenging, especially for short-hold tests. If your most experienced technician is on vacation, you may end up scrambling to meet demand or paying to outsource the test. You may cross-train your employees, so there's always backup, but technicians who don't perform a specific analysis regularly may need a refresher each time to handle and analyze samples correctly.

To increase efficiency, you may want to introduce new technologies, like a LIMS, and redesign workflows to ensure you're utilizing your staff's strengths.

7. Choose Tests Deliberately

Although your lab may run standard tests for wastewater treatment, you still have a choice on the specifics. The tests you choose should be accurate, easy, economical and, above all, rapid to run. Instead of time-consuming, hands-on methods, like membrane filtration or multiple-tube fermentation to test for fecal coliforms, you can choose an alternative that takes less than 1 minute to execute and provides results in 18 hours.

Accurate tests will reduce subjective interpretations and the need for confirmations, giving your staff their evenings and weekends back. Plus, the easier a test is to use, the more you can simplify training and eliminate media prep, autoclaving, colony counting and repeat testing.

8. Set Expectations Early

To satisfy customers during busy times, set turnaround time expectations carefully. Provide your customers with a handout that lists normal and expedited turnaround times, with fees for priority service. If you have various response times, specify those in your service agreement.

You'll want to explain each service level and what you consider a "business day," if it doesn't include weekends or working more than 8 hours a day. Be clear that samples analyzed for more than one contaminant will require the time the longest analysis takes. If a sample must be in your lab by 3 p.m. to get the clock ticking — and for you to deliver a results report by the agreed-upon deadline — make sure you specify that. It's always better to under promise and over deliver than the reverse when it comes to keeping customers happy.

By preparing your equipment, technology and tests now, you can meet the wastewater testing demand head-on when it hits. Work with your staff to streamline processes and with your customers to manage expectations. When the influx comes, you'll be better positioned to run your lab efficiently and keep everyone satisfied.

Read These Next

Diana Kightlinger

Diana Kightlinger is an experienced journalist, copywriter, and blogger for science, technology, and medical organizations. She writes frequently for Fortune 500 corporate clients but also has a passion for explaining scientific research, raising awareness of issues, and targeting positive outcomes for people and communities. Diana holds master’s degrees in environmental science and journalism.