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Drink, Flush and Waste

14 June 2010

Managing water sustainably and effectively is vital at a global, national, regional and premises levels, if we want to maintain ‘business as usual’ over the next generation. Greg Davies explains how water is currently regulated in workplaces

WATER IS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF both life and business, be it for health, hygiene, nutrition or process. Despite being replenishable and renewable, our global use of fresh water has seen the readily available supply decrease. This not only affects our growing population’s ability to source water but we are also seeing fresh water eco systems decline at a rate faster than either their marine or land counterparts.
Water is used for a myriad of purposes, including drinking, sanitation, washing, food preparation, cleaning, food production/processing, manufacturing, heating and cooling, humidifying, aesthetics (water features/atria) and landscaping/gardening. There are a host of regulators who control our water services with regulation being focused in four main areas: finance and economics, drinking water quality, environment, and health and safety.
Finance and economics
In the UK the water companies’ finance and charging functions are regulated by three organisations. In England and Wales this is the Water Services Regulatory Authority (Ofwat), in Scotland it is the Water Industry Commission, and in Northern Ireland it is the Utility Regulator. In England and Wales, while prices vary between water companies, the average cost is around one penny for every 10 litres of drinking water supplied and it is estimated that on average each of us uses approximately 160 litres per day. Ofwat figures for consumption and cost indicate the following for typical aspects of water usage.
Generally, businesses will have water meters installed and they are charged on the amount used whereas the majority of domestic customers pay for their water based on the rateable value of their property. Recently there has been a move for domestic users to have meters installed and now over a third of houses have a water meter in place. However, if you were to ask most business if they knew what their water profile was, or where it was going and the cost, most would not know. Equally identifying the wastewater released and its profile is also important bearing in mind the cost here as well as the effect discharge notice requirements could have.
Drinking water quality
All mains water in the UK should be provided to meet the drinking water quality requirements set by both EU and UK standards. Quality is monitored by the Drinking Water Inspectorates for Northern Ireland and England and Wales, and the Drinking Water Quality Regulator in Scotland.
The main regulation that applies is the Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 2007.
From the meter or main stopcock into the premises however, responsibility for the maintenance of water quality falls to the occupier or duty holder. It is, therefore, important that they are aware of the provision of drinking water in their premises, be it direct mains, bottled water, vending machine or other supply, and that the maintenance and cleaning of these delivery systems remains at best practise standards and effective. Poor cleaning and inadvertent contamination by users can lead to issues being raised from all drinking water supplies, but this can be particularly true for some terminal dispensing units.
The location of these units can also be an area of oversight, this in many offices being for convenience rather than the preservation of water quality. The result of this is machines get located at the end of long runs of unlagged pipework with low demand and usage. In such cases it is not surprising that water quality issues can arise.
The environmental regulation of water is overseen by the Environment Agencies relative to each area of the UK. These not only provide information and support in times of flood and drought, but also enforce the regulations where pollution or environmental damage occurs to water or any water system. Regulation covers the broad principles through the Water Act 2003, to the specific, such as The Water Resources (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2003, The Water Resources (Abstraction and Impounding) Regulations 2006 (there are Scotland and Northern Ireland specific versions of these regulations) and The Private Water Supplies Regulations 2009. These regulations control the abstraction and use of water together with ensuring the likelihood of pollution of our water systems is minimised.
There is little organisations can do to protect against large scale flooding. However, with such events becoming seemingly more frequent, putting in place procedures to manage or mitigate the effects a flood are becoming more common. In a flood which is the first area of the building to suffer? How many basements become archive storage areas, IT rooms or the location of the buildings heating and ventilation plant?
Similarly, identifying water critical systems and services within the premises can also effectively help in the management of drought or water rationing, as well as minimising potential down time or critical system loss. Knowing what systems and services are water dependant and critical, should be a key part of your business continuity planning.
In addition, a recent new regulation, Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) Regulation 2009, sees an increased onus placed on businesses to prevent and remediate any environmental damage their business causes to water or land systems. For many organisations the focus would appear to be more on manufacturing or processing where large scale contamination or pollution could occur. But the regulations equally apply to, or could potentially apply to, anyone with on-site oil storage, oil interceptors or smaller processors (heating, ventilation and production) where chemicals or other materials could leach out or escape and contaminate the land or water in their proximity.
Many organisations are looking at taking greater control over their water management and combining this with a more green approach too. Rain water harvesting, greywater use, water minimisation/optimisation systems are now being more closely considered. There is also an increase in wet cooling system installation on new buildings to provide heat rejection, as they are seen to be more environmentally friendly against building regulation requirements. However, not all options are effective in all buildings and whereand how best of any particular system is put to use needs to be economically viable as well as environmentally beneficial.
Health and safety
Across the UK enforcement under water related H&S issues encompasses the Health and Safety Commission, the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities. For the workplace this covers welfare, not only in terms of hygiene (sanitary conveniences, washing facilities) and drinking water), but also the specific risks associated with the building or the processes and activities undertaken within it (for example, Legionnaires’
disease, drowning, electrocution to name but three). Legislation affecting water in the workplace includes, The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, The Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999 and for Legionnaires’ disease, the Control of Legionella Bacteria in WaterSystems (ACoP) 2000.
For most organisations the provision of sanitary conveniences will be dictated at the buildings regulation stage by the size of the premises and number of occupants. Maintaining these facilities is the responsibility of the landlord, tenant and/or occupier and their staff. Where cooking kitchens etc. have been installed, facilities should also be made available for their staff so that adequate provision to the standards required for food hygiene is established.
Similarly when constructed most building should be compliant with the fittings regulations, although their requirements need to be borne in mind when maintenance or servicing is performed. In essence the regulations require that any component does not lead to “waste, misuse, undue consumption or contamination of water supplied by a water undertaker, or the erroneous measurement of water supplied by a water undertaker.”
Under the requirements of the Approved Code of Practice & Guidance (L8): “Legionnaires’ disease: The control of legionella bacteria in water systems” 2000, all water systems and services within premises must be adequately risk assessed and, as necessary, controls put in place to minimise the risk of legionella bacteria proliferating within them and being disseminated in droplets and breathed in by anyone, be they employees, contractors or members of the public.
Legionella management is seen by many as an area that can be easily ‘contracted out’ and while this is true for some of the tasks that need to be performed, it is not the case for where the duty and hence responsibility resides. In considering this perhaps a further point to mention is that up until 2002 the maximum number of Legionnaires’ disease cases in the UK in any single year was 280 (1988) and the average number of cases per year was 182. Between 2002 and 2008 this average has climbed to 389 and in 2006 alone 551 individual cases were recorded (figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA)).
In future increased pressure over our supply and use of water is going to occur, both commercially and domestically. From an environmental, H&S, operation and cost perspective we are going to have to be smarter and more considered in our use of what for many is seen as a readily available commodity. What happens when it isn’t?
Businesses should be carefully considering their ongoing need for water and the effect that too little as well as too much could have. Advice will be required from within the organisation on need and demand, as well as from respected, qualified, independent third parties on managing the more specialist risk areas. These then need to be drawn together in a cohesive water management strategy.
While parts of the World struggle to source any water, let alone clean water, we currently flush our toilets with water of the highest drinking quality. We will not have this luxury for much longer if the current trends continue and the wise are already planning for it.
Greg Davies is Head of Service Development, at Elementus.
WATER FACTS: Earth has 1,360,000,000 cu km of water; 3% of it is fresh water; ⅔ is frozen in glaciers and ice caps.
UK: Water comes from 1500 bore holes, 650 reservoirs and 600 river extraction points;  The water industry collects treats and supplies more than 16bn litres of water per day to the commercial and domestic sectors; 10bn litres of resulting waste water is collected and treated prior to being returned to the environment
Legionnaires’ disease: Up to 2002 the maximum cases in the UK in any year was 280 (1988); the average number per year was 182. From 2002 - 2008 this average has risen to 389 and in 2006 alone, there were 551 individual cases.

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