Assessing drainage risk: five common causes of drainage failure

For any business assessing potential areas of risk or causes of potential downtime, drainage is one of the most difficult to resolve and often the most frequently overlooked. This is because the majority of drainage is below the ground and out of sight. A potential problem with a drainage system is harder to identify and foresee than a potential problem with an IT system or factory production system. Assets such as manufacturing equipment and fleet items, visibly age and decline. In contrast, a faltering drainage network often makes its presence felt when it’s too late to prevent an escalation into a large-scale problem. So what areas of potential risk can businesses look out for? They are extremely difficult to identify with any certainty, but we’ve listed five common causes of drainage failures:

1) Trees could be the root of your problem

Mother Nature is an irresistible force. You’ve probably seen somewhere a collapsed wall caused by the outward growth of tree roots. What you probably haven’t seen is the damage this can do to an underground pipe – it’s a very common cause of drainage failure. Tree roots will often penetrate pipework, causing blockages at first, but, if not arrested, these lead to the pipe fracturing and leaks that may create issues with the Environment Agency. If your business premises include grounds with trees, and mature trees especially, this represents a potential area of concern.

2) Land movement and subsidence

Land subsidence occurs when large amounts of groundwater have been withdrawn from certain types of rocks, such as fine-grained sediments. The rock compacts because the water is partly responsible for holding the ground up. When the water is withdrawn, the rocks falls in on themselves. Land subsidence is most commonly caused by human activities - such as the removal of subsurface water - as well as aquifer-system compaction, drainage of organic soils, mining, hydro-compaction, natural compaction, sinkholes and thawing permafrost. All of these present a potential threat to drainage systems, but subsidence can also represent the symptom of a faulty pipe rather than the cause. In other words, if you see evidence of land subsidence, it may be due to a cracked drain leaking water and softening the ground. Worse still, it could be the result of a collapsed drain. This will require urgent attention but it’s highly likely that your drainage network – and your business operation – has already been disrupted.

3) Industrial and heavy goods traffic

The speed of wear and tear on any ground is accelerated by the volume and weight of any passing traffic. This is where certain locations can be vulnerable – for example, motorways and busy A-roads, industrial sites and distribution centres are subject to a high volume of heavy goods vehicles. The impact of, for example, a fleet of 44-tonne trucks passing through on a daily basis will inevitably take its toll over time.

4) Reactions from chemical waste

A large percentage of Jet Aire’s business is in the chemical sector and it’s easy to understand why. Most chemical waste reacts with pipework fabric to accelerate its deterioration. As a result, chemical production sites are known for a higher rate of drainage failure than other manufacturing sites. When this happens, it carries the risk of damaging the surrounding area with the leakage of toxic chemical waste. This compounds the problem with the likelihood of a hefty fine by the Environmental Agency and negative headlines in the media. The conclusion? If you operate a chemical production site, or your business is located near to one, we strongly recommend consulting a drainage company to provide a professional assessment.

5) Sugar and acid could lead to a breakdown

Drink manufacturing is another sector prone to high rates of drainage failure. Again, the problem is caused by the nature of the product – most drinks contain sugar and acids which break down the fabric of pipes. The deterioration can develop surprisingly quickly - sugar is abrasive to concrete and bacterial digestion will eat away at pipes. If a drainage leak does occur, drinks manufacturers pose a similar environmental risk – with all the problems that entails.

What’s the best course of action?

The conditions outlined above present a high risk of drainage failure, but they are certainly not the only causes of damage or deterioration. It’s impossible to account for everything. Ultimately, identifying potential problems above ground is merely a warning signal to future risk. The only way to comprehensively assess the probability of failure is going underground. That means a CCTV Condition survey, which can inspect every element of your drainage system, from pipes to manhole chambers.

An investment in a CCTV Condition survey is relatively modest when you consider the costs that could be saved by avoiding expensive repairs, disruption and downtime. For example, if a CCTV Condition survey identifies a cracked pipe or displaced joint, this can be easily remedied with CIPP patching or lining or UV lining. Without a CCTV Condition survey to identify the weakness, the pipe could eventually collapse and the cost of excavation and relaying a pipe could run well into six figures, especially when you factor in downtime to the business. With that in mind, you could save at least half of that cost with an investment in lining to strengthen pipes, providing decades of failure-free drainage and zero downtime. Ultracoating - a structural epoxy coating application – is a more expensive technique for drainage reinforcement, but the money goes a long way: the system is renowned for its reliability with zero failures in the last 35 years.

If you think that your business premises could be prone to drainage failure, or you simply want some advice on assessing potential risk, please get in touch with Jet Aires’ friendly team of professionals to discuss your concerns. You can call us on 0113 393 5500 or email