Put It In Writing: How to Effectively Use Forms, Logs and More

Written communication is an art unto itself. Find out how to use it effectively at your wastewater treatment plant.
Put It In Writing: How to Effectively Use Forms, Logs and More
Written communication, in all its various forms, keeps life running smoothly at wastewater treatment plants. How organized is your plant? And are you using written communication effectively?

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Effective written communication is a critical component of a well-run wastewater treatment facility. Not only does it improve the work environment, but it's necessary for tracking and accurately recording data.

In larger facilities or facilities with multiple shifts, face-to-face communication can be rare, which makes written communication all the more important. Also, in light of regulatory agencies and legal implications, written communication is often necessary to prove that information is recorded and given to the right person at the right time.

Written communication can take several forms. Here, we examine some of the most common methods used at wastewater treatment facilities.

Preprinted forms
Preprinted forms generally fall into two categories: rounds forms and bench sheets. Rounds forms are for recording current facts and conditions observed throughout the facility. Typically, rounds follow the flow of the plant. An individual’s name and the date/time are added to the form along with hour meters, pressure gauges and totalizers.

List routine tasks done while on rounds and verify completion. Instead of checking boxes, save space on the form for an operator’s initials. This personal verification tends to foster a greater sense of responsibility.

Assure that every pump, tank and other piece of equipment are clearly numbered, and that everyone agrees to the name of the equipment for accurate reference on the rounds form. Taylor the rounds form to record data, observations and tasks to address specific needs and concerns within your facility. Additional information for the rounds form can include:

  • Which equipment is on line
  • Check equipment for unusual noises
  • Oil levels
  • Chemical inventories and usage rates
  • Weather, tides, etc.

Bench sheets are the fundamental record for the laboratory. Multiple analyses can be included on one sheet, but be sure to list the exact method for each test. Also, include any mathematic formulas used to acquire data. Often, one or more bench sheets will be devoted to compiling data from individual test sheets. These compilation sheets generally cover a week or a month, and are valuable not only for observing trends, but also for simplifying data entry for monthly compliance reporting. Conversely, too much redundancy can bog down lab work. You need to find a good balance of minimal requirement and optimal value.

Logbooks are for recording daily facility activities. Although they offer tremendous potential for effective communication, they are often poorly kept. Each facility is unique, and the function of logbooks can vary widely. Generally, the more employees at a facility, the more important the logbook becomes. A single operator logbook basically serves to record his or her activity for future reference. With more users, the logbook becomes a dynamic, vital part of daily operations.

Entries typically record past events, but it’s also helpful to make entries that alert others of intended actions. This helps coordinate work and serves as a safety measure.

A facility manager should establish clear guidelines for the plant log, but here are some recommendations:

  • Use a hardbound logbook with numbered pages.
  • Use ink. For corrections, put a single line through the error.
  • Make clear, concise entries, and print legibly.
  • Put the date and day on each new entry.
  • Include time, down to the minute.
  • Include the name of the person making the entry.
  • Include any information that could be useful to the organization, and absolutely any safety or environmental issues.
  • Use complete sentences.

For example, “Pump station checks” does not imply an action; it merely lists a task. “Angela performed pump station checks, all OK,” is much more descriptive.

Some managers might use a logbook to micromanage employee activity, which should be avoided. I have seen where — after filling out a detailed entry — an operator felt compelled to write, “1326 to 1330: Made log entries." This type of micro-managing is rarely productive.

Highlighters can be an excellent way to call attention to critical entries, but don’t overuse them. You can also use different colors for data categories, or for assigning a level of importance to an entry.

Depending on facility size and activities, it might help to keep separate logbooks for the lab, operations and maintenance departments.

Notes and memos
Notes and memos can be a useful communication method. They can be anything from informal reminders off the record to official communiqués that the recipient must initial. Typical uses are sticky notes in the break room or on lockers as a gentle reminder. Dry-erase boards are also effective for posting notes. Official memos are more likely to be hand delivered or attached to a bulletin board. Memos are the best way to communicate policy, events and personnel issues.

Electronic media
Electronic media certainly has a place in the wastewater treatment facility. Computer-based data management is invaluable for the laboratory. Spreadsheets can perform complex functions and archive data instantly. Operators can stay in contact and record activities on tablets and smart phones.

The EPA has set specific guidelines governing the use of electronic archiving for environmental industries in a memorandum called “Electronic Records and Document Management system,” or ERDMS, which was released on Aug. 15, 2003. The guide covers issues such as security, retrieval, backup and life cycle management. It also incudes a section on permanent records that states, “Provide an alternative to the use of floppy discs for the long-term storage of permanent records."

For peace of mind, I interpret this as, "Keep your paperwork stored in bankers' boxes forever." I highly recommend visiting the EPA website for more information.


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