Sanitation Engineer

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Sanitation Engineer


We often take for granted the sanitary facilities and conditions that exist in the developed world, such as water and sewage treatment plants, which provide people with clean drinking water and help prevent serious illness and disease. We have sanitation engineers to thank for this. Sanitation engineers are involved in the branch of engineering concerned with the design, construction, and maintenance of environmental facilities conducive to public health, such as water supply and waste disposal. They design, assess and implement sanitation facilities in order to keep people healthy and clean.

Sanitation engineers meet with health officials, architects, lawyers and contractors in order to make sure that design plans are safe and will withstand a number of conditional health variables. Safety is one of the most important issues that sanitation engineers must contend with. They create engineering plans on computers which test and predict possible problems with a structure and in this, they generate solutions. Although most work takes place on the computer, most sanitation engineers travel to the sites to see their work in progress and to fulfil the stereotype that many people have of an engineer with a hard hat, walking around a site.

In recent years, many sanitation engineers have been working abroad in developing countries in humanitarian roles. For example, some engineers are hired by relief organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) to travel to small villages in Africa and Asia and help design and install a clean drinking water system. Unfortunately, too many poor individuals are dying or becoming ill because they lack access to sanitary resources. Therefore sanitary engineers manage all aspects of engineering projects dealing with water supply, environmental hygiene and sanitation. For some people, doing this type of work can be extremely fulfilling due to the social aid nature of the position.

Sanitation engineers use traditional and high-tech tools like Intelligent Transportation Systems and Smart Systems, to solve problems and meet challenges. They research and evaluate each project to find the most cost-effective solutions to problems while still maintaining recognized standards.
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  Interests and Skills  
Sanitation engineers must be knowledgeable about math and science, as well as water, health and sanitation. They are expert decision-makers and have good drawing and design skills. They possess good communication skills because they work closely with government officials, contractors, architects and clients. Sanitation engineers can analyze data, review calculations and prepare cost estimates and have the ability to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings. They must be dedicated to their projects, be creative in their designs and be as knowledgeable as possible in the sanitation field. Computer skills are imperative, including engineering modeling software. Finally, they should enjoy being innovative, doing work that requires precision and making solid decisions.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Analyze existing river and hydraulics systems to determine the sanitation levels
  • Develop sanitary water systems designed to supply clean drinking water to people along with irrigation projects
  • Predict and analyze patterns of sewage and water-flow (runoff and flooding) and evaluate their potential effects
  • Design holding areas and storm sewers to accommodate water overflow, flooding conditions and sewage or oil spills
  • Study water flows in rivers and streams, survey underground supplies of water and their movement, and study precipitation rates
  • Test designs for faults
  • Examine the effects of water on the health of individuals
  • Work out the efficiency and cost of the design
  • Write reports, proposals and budgets for the proposed sanitation structures
  • May appear as expert witnesses in court hearings.
  • Working environments for sanitation engineers are as varied as their projects. When sanitation engineers are not in the office on the computer, outdoor workplace conditions can sometimes be a bit hectic. For instance, when inspecting certain sites, work can involve being in confined and extremely unsanitary spaces.
  • For those who work abroad, there is a lot of foreign travel involved. They usually work anywhere between eight and 10 hours each day and longer hours may be required if there are any emergencies. They often work with a team that may include professionals from other engineering and scientific disciplines, contractors, project owners, architects, bankers, lawyers or government officials.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Sanitation engineers work in both the public and private sectors. They are employed by government agencies, especially in the municipal sector, non-governmental organizations such as the World Health Organization, sanitation engineering consulting firms, research and educational institutions, communications companies and many other related health and sanitation industries. Some sanitation engineers are self-employed and own their own engineering consulting firm.

  Long Term Career Potential  
With experience, sanitation engineers can become project managers and eventually advance to the management of very large projects. They can eventually become the chief engineers on projects like a water treatment system in an underdeveloped country, working with foreign governments and helping create new sanitation policies. Some experienced sanitation engineers may decide to branch off on their own and establish their own construction or consulting companies. Those with PhDs might teach at a university or conduct research.

  Educational Paths  
Due to the nature of the job, sanitation engineers require a university degree in sanitation engineering or in a related field of civil engineering. They must also become registered as a professional engineer (PEng) within an association of professional engineers to secure employment and practice in their field. Some sanitation engineers also get master's degrees in their specific area, which makes them more employable.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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