One State’s View – How to Use the Model Standards

The Association of Boards of Certification (ABC) has recently published it “Model Standards of Operator Certification” to provide a template for improvements in state certification programs.  In the most recent edition of The Certifier, Jackie  Whelan, Colorado’s Operator Certification Coordinator, described how she plans to take advantage of the elements found in the Model Standards.


Jackie Whelan – Colorado Water and Wastewater Facility Operators Certification Board

Operator certification is important to protecting public health and the environment. Like numerous other states and provinces, Colorado has a long history of recognizing the importance of an operator certification program. We need to ensure skilled professionals are overseeing the treatment and distribution of safe drinking water and the collection and treatment of wastewater prior to its discharge into waters of the state or province.


In 1959, the State Health Department formed the Advisory Committee on Certification of Water and Sewage Plant Operators in Colorado. The certification of water and wastewater treatment plant operators remained voluntary until the early 1970s, when the treatment operator certification program became a mandatory program. The first regulations were adopted in July 1973. In 2000, Colorado statute was modified in response to the publication of the 1999 U.S. EPA’s guidelines for certification programs, which outlined a baseline for an operator certification program. Colorado used the guidelines to expand and enhance what was already in place.

In February 2014, it will have been 15 years since the publication of the U.S. EPA guidelines. The minimum standards provided a framework to build a good certification program. But minimum standards aren’t enough to build a great program. It’s time to take the next step—making your good programs great!

The guideline’s minimum standards are broad enough to accommodate a wide range of implementation options as evidenced by the diverse nature of certification programs. The committee that developed the ABC Model Standards of Operator Certification capitalized on the unique nature of each certification program. The committee was able to take the very best of each program and use this to define an “ideal” or model program.


The Model Standards set the bar high. Will I be able to implement all the standards outlined in the model?  No, because like each of you, I’m subject to a legislature or other political body, organizational structure and restraints, resources and funding barriers, and political climates in general. But I can strive to draw closer to the spirit and intent of the model by taking my program from good, to better, to the best I can.

The Model Standards can provide direction to help address specific program issues. For example, I was struggling with how to conduct an internal review of our program – it’s hard to objectively assess the program you’re administering, especially when it’s the only program you know!  The model gives me a concrete standard to use to evaluate the various aspects of our program. Standard 7 answers the questions of who, what, when, and why with regards to internal program reviews, and the model gives me confidence that the next review will be thorough and complete. These standards address so many different aspects of operator certification that you are nearly guaranteed to learn something or be able to utilize the document in some way. Here is another solution we have acquired from the document: recently, there have been instances of unprofessional behavior by certified operators that are not directly job related. I believe that the formal adoption of a code of conduct, as recommended in Standard 5, would help to address this issue and emphasize the importance of professionalism in all settings.

The outstanding innovations and wisdom from each of your programs are now compiled in the Model Standards of Operator Certification. I hope you’ll join me as I utilize the model to take the next step—making a good program great!

Reprinted with Permission from ABC


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