Four Pillars of Plumbing

11-13 September 2019

Melbourne Convention Centre, Level 1

The World Plumbing Council (WPC) wants strong industry frameworks for plumbing industries, and we think better frameworks will result from plumbing industries learning from each other.


The frameworks of plumbing industries can be categorised into four dimensions:

Participation: the training requirements to work in the industry

If plumbing is going to be at the forefront of humanity’s capacity to adapt to climate change, we need more plumbers.  If plumbing is going to be the catalyst for liberating millions of people from a state of “water poverty”, we need more plumbers, trained and skilled in the latest techniques, products and installations.  If we are going to maintain the health of big city water supplies and keep buildings, hospitals and schools free from things like legionella, we simply need more plumbing professionals.

A key focus of the WPC is to identify and implement strategies that foster industry participation.  The Council will present case studies from around the globe to identify the best way to attract, train and retain plumbing practitioners.  Gathering information from stakeholders, governments, and industry, we aim to identify the key training requirements and the best training methods. 

Growing industry participation rates is important, but making sure only properly trained people work on plumbing is the real key to success.  Plumbing work, by definition, is high risk.  Every connection gives rise to a new risk, and the risk of inadequately trained people doing plumbing works are too great to ever compromise on training. This will be discussed in depth during the session on Participation at WPC 2019.

Practices: standards and accountability in day-to-day work in the industry

Ensuring only trained people enter the industry is key to our success, but setting and enforcing quality standards within those industries is equally important.  Included in the questions the WPC is setting out to answer is how do we ensure work practices meet minimum quality/safety standards and what should those standards be?  

There are many examples of industries doing a very effective job of managing quality and safety.  We know how risks can be managed well. However, in other instances, the regulations and/or how they are being enforced are less successful.  We want to understand why there is a gap between the risk posed by plumbing and related works and the regulatory effort directed towards it.  We want to explore how to develop a solid set of standards and regulations and how to back them up with meaningful audit, testing, inspection and enforcement.  To realise good plumbing outcomes, a robust regulatory framework that is properly enforced is crucial.

Products: features and quality of the materials, fittings and appliances used in plumbing work

The world market for plumbing products has never been as big, diverse, fluid, or dynamic.  With an estimated value of more than $80B and growing year on year, product expansion, combined with lower trade barriers and rapid demand growth from large economies such as China and India, means there are enormous economic and development opportunities within both emerging and established markets.  There are also more risks.  A booming market can attract sub-standard products, made from inferior and unsuitable materials.

How do we help industries put systems and processes in place that allow only properly certified products to enter the market, without stifling innovation?  This is very important in developing economies, where the ability to access new and innovative products, such as contemporary backflow devices, is key to improving health and economic outcomes.

Protection: measures to minimise risks and provide redress when failures occur.

The fourth pillar of a successful, stable plumbing industry is protection – for consumers, for practitioners and for the community as a whole.  The first three pillars are about avoiding negative outcomes for consumers or the public as a result of poor quality or inadequate plumbing work.

However, invariably, and in even the most well designed, regulated and policed industry, some failures occur.  Where they do, the industry needs to have in place the systems, processes, and laws, that adequately protect consumers, the community and practitioners.  There must be a system of just redress for consumers disaffected or damaged in some way by poor quality plumbing.  There must also be a system of just redress for practitioners that are affected by issues such as inadequate workplace safety measures, non-payment and the like. This needs to be swift, accessible and fair.

These four dimensions are known as the Four Pillars of Plumbing.


Recently, WPC members have been contributing to discussions around these pillars at forums focusing on the Participation Pillar, the Products Pillar and on the Four Pillars in regional contexts.

The WPC does not think there is a one-size-fits-all ‘best’ plumbing industry framework. The economic, institutional, cultural and physical environments of plumbing industries, and the scopes of plumbing industries, are too varied globally for there to be one ideal framework.

We do believe that better frameworks bring better outcomes, with the outcomes ranging from greater availability of clean water and efficient sanitation services to improved prosperity and professionalism of plumbing businesses and increased industry growth.

The World Plumbing Conference 2019 provides us the perfect opportunity to delve deeply into each pillar with inspiring presentations from some of the best practitioners in the world.

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