Plumbing vs water and wastewater reticulation services

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By George Maritz, GK Water Solutions

Plumbing as a trade is well-known, with plumbers operating in different areas within the industry. Some plumbers focus on new construction projects and new installations, some focus on maintenance and others may focus on municipal work. These are all different from each other and require a specific mindset and expertise, mainly gained through experience in that specific area of plumbing.

I am writing this specifically from a personal perspective and others may view this differently, which I would expect to be the case. Plumbers working in the municipal environment also have two main different paths to choose from, as there are two distinctly different types of plumbing required.

Plumbers can work on municipal buildings and properties or work on the water and wastewater supply or reticulation systems. These are in a sense the same but can also be very different and require different skill sets and knowledge. For this reason, people interested in working on municipal water supply systems typically undergo a learnership in water and wastewater reticulation systems from NQF Level 2 to 4. This training is focused on municipal water and wastewater reticulation systems.

“I am writing this specifically from a personal perspective and others may view this differently, which I would expect to be the case.”

George Maritz


George Maritz, GK Water Solutions. Photo Supplied


These two have some distinct differences, which I will outline, as well as some concerns I have in this regard. Plumbing is both part of building construction and civil construction, where water and wastewater reticulation is part of energy and civil construction / engineering. Licensed plumbers will test pipelines and issue a certificate of compliance (CoC) if the installation complies with the national standards.

Technicians with NQF Level 4 in water and wastewater reticulation services in the municipal environment are not allowed to test and issue a CoC as they are not qualified plumbers. This can be understood in terms of the building industry and I agree with this rule. I do however question that these technicians cannot issue a CoC for sewerage pipe installations and water pipelines as they ae not qualified plumbers. I see this as two separate fields of work. Plumbing is a trade, and water, and wastewater reticulation services is a learnership, but they operate in two different environments and cannot be compared as the same thing.

The fact that technicians in the municipal environment cannot issue a PIRB CoC is understood as they are not trade-tested Plumbers, but there is no professional body for these technicians. They can register with PIRB under a different category, but not as a licensed plumber which, again, is because they are not qualified plumbers. Technicians will have to go for further training in plumbing and pass the plumbing trade test to register and qualify to issue a CoC.

Should a technician complete the plumbing trade, but may never practice plumbing? Do we expect people to qualify in plumbing simply because they need to have the authority to issue a CoC on their own work environment where they are already regarded a professional?

These technicians do not work as plumbers, but as water and wastewater servicepeople within an environment that does not require the services of a plumber although plumbers are also used for this function.

As a PIRB plumber, I fully agree and comply with the requirements for plumbers, but as I explained, I do not fully agree with (or maybe understand) the requirements for technicians in the municipal environment.

Looking at operators in water or wastewater purification in municipalities or private water services providers, all these positions can apply for professional status with a regulating body, but this does not apply to water and wastewater reticulation services.

Maybe it is time to consider this in a different way. It might be a good idea to leave things as they are, or maybe consider other alternatives such as allowing technicians to test water and wastewater pipes and issue CoCs for those items.

It may be that we need to consider further training for plumbers and technicians on NQF L5 and L6. I am hoping to initiate a review of our way of thinking in our industry and the possibility of higher-level studies in plumbing and water and wastewater reticulation without having to study for a civil or structural engineer degree/diploma.

I think our trade has evolved to such an extent that the traditional thinking can be revised and if needed, be amended.

Editor’s comment: George raises some important issues which do need to be aired and worked on. Let us have your views, thoughts, and ideas. Send them to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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