Water safety plans – the way ahead?
This article was first published in the Better Business pages of Heating & Ventilation News / December 2015.
Water Safety Plans, now commonplace in the health sector, could be the key to the control of water-borne infection through effective internal management of processes, asks Andrew Steel.
While “holistic approach” is a much over-used term these days, I do believe that it is a concept that should be applied to the control of water-borne pathogens. Raised pathogen levels in test samples and ‘near misses’ are all too often met as crises and managed as such ie. very expensively. Far better to be prepared and proportionate in your response.
One of the most welcome changes in thinking that has come about in recent years is the concept of Water Safety Groups (and associated Water Safety Plans) in health sector. The Department of Health’s Health Technical Memorandum HTM04-01 has defined them as best practice since 2013 – and HTM ‘advice’ is something hospital managers ignore at their peril. Other sectors could benefit from this approach which ensures that the need for control measures is embedded throughout the organisation.
Water safety plans can align the goals of different departments. For instance energy managers may not be happy with the need for high water temperatures, nor may they understand the potential problems of heat gain (or lack of heat loss) in the cold water systems of energy efficient buildings. Other managers may baulk at the use of expensive water for flushing, but will back a regime which balances the risk of each outlet with the frequency of flushing.
A business-wide water safety plan can also help to secure budget funding for better preventive water management and maintenance measures such as planned disinfection and system flushing.
The HTM does, however state quite clearly that “A programme of audit should be in place to ensure that key policies and practices are being implemented appropriately.” Also that “The WSG should always act in an appropriate and timely manner. Individual responsibilities should not be restricted by the need to hold formal meetings.“
Furthermore reporting and accountability are required to demonstrate effective governance and assurance. Of course, the picture is complicated where estates and facilities provider services are part of an ongoing contract (including PFI), but here your goal should be to leverage the specialist expertise: don’t just negotiate around the service level and fees, make sure the service provider contributes to and adds value to the planning process, assuming they have the expertise to do so.
The health sector’s specific guidance advises forming a water safety group, assessing the risk, having an action plan. It doesn’t really define the best practice that a court of law will be looking for or go into specifics such as how and how often to sample. That’s where specialist consultancy comes in.
The water industry does know is what has worked in the past, and here is a huge repository of knowledge and experience to draw on. Pro-active water safety planning is an opportunity for positive change, and it certainly beats reactive panic.
Andrew Steel is managing director of essential air and water services provider Airmec.