The highs and lows of water safety considerations for newbuilds

Peter Gunn, Senior Consultant at the Water Hygiene Centre, looks at the highs and lows of water safety considerations for newbuilds.

The handover of any newbuild or construction project is the culmination of a complex process to provide much-needed facilities. Indeed, the nature of any individual project – whether it’s a social housing development or a new cancer care centre – will have its own unique dynamics, and there will be successes and failures along the way. In the context of water hygiene and safety risk management, general awareness of potential pitfalls and avoidable operational problems is increasing. However, there are still many areas at all stages of a project where all parties involved can make significant improvements. 

Some of these may include the following:

  • a design specification that does not serve the function of either the build or client
  • a water systems design that is unnecessarily complex
  • a lack of a qualified review or comments at the specification or design stages
  • a lack of trained designers and installation experts, whether they’ve been trained recently or otherwise
  • inadequate communication between key stakeholders throughout the project, including the client’s Water Safety Group
  • a lack of clearly defined responsibilities for all parties, from designer to end user
  • inadequate risk assessment throughout all key phases of the project; and
  • inappropriate materials and fittings.

Water can never be entirely free from aquatic organisms, so measures must be taken to guard against conditions that encourage the growth of waterborne pathogens such as Legionella and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. 

To avoid potentially costly remedial works, the design of new buildings and their water systems is controlled to eliminate risk and essentially get it right first time. A client’s Water Safety Plan will endeavour to provide structure along the way, ensuring a building’s water system is properly designed, installed and commissioned, and contribute towards safe operation and maintenance.

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Case study

Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital has had well-documented problems with its water systems. It ranked infection control measures as “high risk” in several areas just days after opening and subsequently had to close wards due to water-related risks. Consecutive inspections and Legionella assessments identified not only poor management of these risks but also “significant communication issues between the parties” responsible for managing them.

Addressing the following could have avoided the issues exemplified in the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital case and are key to successful water safety management in newbuild or refurbishment projects: 

Lack of communication

During the construction phase of a project, the appointed project manager is responsible for identifying multiple potential problems and finding ways to mitigate them. They need to gather input and plan ways to prevent the project from veering off course. Without this, the project will most certainly go over budget or be delayed. However, from a water hygiene and safety perspective, clear lines of communication, accountability and responsibility for any new project must be established at the beginning. Time must be built into the tender specification to allow for a thorough review of the water hygiene and safety aspects of the system through all stages of the project to ensure it can deliver the required water quality for its intended purpose. 

Lack of competence

All those involved in the specification and design of systems, as well as those involved in the development process and those responsible for full operational use, must have sufficient Legionella training and experience. This will enable them to understand the impact of the design on water hygiene and safety, and their role in ensuring all biological, chemical, physical and radiological risks from water on-site are assessed and managed. The water should meet the criteria at the point of use agreed by the person responsible and/or Water Safety Group (WSG). More specifically, all contractors and installers involved with the water systems must be suitably trained, experienced, competent and familiar with the types of water systems and equipment used and the ways that associated hazards could be introduced.

Recent guidance

BSI Group’s BS 8680:2020 standard on water quality and water safety plans, which was introduced last year, goes a long way to providing a design framework that will provide a robust structure capable of successfully delivering the project any client would expect. BS 8680:2020 states: “The safe operation of a building’s water system is a culmination of its proper design, installation, commissioning, operation and maintenance. Indeed, the objective of any water system design process should be to ensure that after completion, water systems and equipment are free from hazards (biological, chemical, physical and radiological), including waterborne pathogens, such as Legionella”. 

The Water Hygiene Centre’s experience of new projects would certainly agree with BS 8680:2020, which states: “Water systems should be designed such that they do not pose a risk of harm to those who might be exposed to the water systems or associated equipment throughout the life cycle of the building, including to residents, staff, visitors, members of the public and, where applicable, patients.” BS 8680:2020 additionally states that “all water systems, attached equipment, fittings, components and equipment should be specified and designed to ensure that they do not introduce inherent risks”. In other words, they should not enable hazards to be introduced or increase risks to levels that can cause harm to those exposed. Water systems should be easily accessible and with sufficient space for cleaning and maintenance. These considerations must not be taken for granted or underestimated.

Projects are now starting to be more routinely reviewed and discussed within WSGs. However, there is still some way to go in ensuring that all significant projects are appropriately overseen by key stakeholders. By ensuring your organisation takes on board BS 8680:2020’s key design considerations regarding adequate consultation, project user requirements, worker competence, risk assessments at each stage of the project, robust commissioning, adequate supervision and use of permits to work, and clarity on handover documentation – the project is well on its way to being water safe.  

Gain technical training in water safety from the Water Hygiene Centre at bit.ly/WaterHygiene

Learn more about the water safety problems of Glasgow’s QEUH at bit.ly/QEUHWater

Image Credit | iStock | Alamy

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