BrodexTrident Blog

'What to Consider for Your Water System When Reoccupying a Building?

Please note:

The following information is valid as of 1st June 2020, this blog post will not be updated. For up-to-date and specific health and safety guidelines for your business, please refer to the Health and Safety Executive and the Legionella Control Association:

A lot of buildings will have stood empty during the Government-enforced lockdown here in the UK, as employees have been forced to work from home. As we all continue to do what we can to proactively limit the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in our communities, it remains in everyone's best interests for many tens of thousands of British workers to perform their normal roles remotely, should the situation and individual circumstances afford them that opportunity.

Which essentially means that a significant percentage of habitually occupied business properties will have not reverberated to the physical presence of staff members for what might end up being a lengthy passage of time. Once it's considered safe to return, albeit strictly adhering to social distancing measures in the workplace and being hugely aware of the 'new normal' practices that need to be diligently followed.

That of course could, potentially mean that internal water storage systems will have remained largely dormant during this unprecedented period, as the demands put upon infrastructures of this nature won't need to have been fulfilled as they are historically. If at all, in certain scenarios.

Therefore it's imperative that those individuals and organisations responsible for the health and safety aspect of a business, ensure that in the event of employees planned returns to work every box is ticked when it comes to water hygiene issues. While COVID-19 is foremost in everyone's minds right now, the prospect of returning to buildings temporarily evacuated for a variety of reasons is not an entirely new thing. Ergo the information included in this blog serves as a useful reference point in a number of similar sets of circumstances, whereby water systems need to be addressed before reoccupation takes place.

Advice For Owners of Mothballed Properties Returning After Lockdown Measures for Businesses are Eased

Right now businesses in the planning stages of opening up their trading addresses as lockdown measures are slowly being eased, will need a robust plan; and rigidly implement it before staff walk back through its doors.
But way before a plan is hatched (although said plan will essentially conform with government directives), it's crucial that all business owners - and duty holders - are aware that under no circumstances must they re-open without first having water systems checked. That's because the bottom line is water could have stagnated during these periods of inactivity. Irrespective of whether they were drained prior to lockdown (or any other mothballed passage of time). Meaning that pockets of water could easily remain. Pockets of water which could play host to various dangerous waterborne bacterium.

Lockdown or no lockdown, the Health & Safety at Work Act is still a legal compliance and should be upheld throughout. As such all duty holders are bound to take all possible actions to mitigate the risks of Legionella and other water-related issues. There are no exemptions to that rule, and prosecutions will follow in the event that any duty holders are found culpable when it comes to not taking the necessary actions/adhering to long-standing protocols so as to prevent an outbreak.

<Learn more about the risks associated with legionella bacteria>

Considerations Ahead of Recommissioning Business Premises After Period of Un-occupation

As your business gears up for a structured and systematic return to normal trading (or even, 'new normal' practices as per post-Lockdown Britain), it is imperative that a timely recommissioning plan is devised and executed. Chief among considerations at this juncture are all of the following questions;

Although perhaps difficult to answer definitively right now, however even during this transitional period when do you envisage your premises being reoccupied?
• How many properties need to be recommissioned?

• What steps must be taken in order to recommission the water storage system within each building?

• How long do you estimate each part of the abovementioned process will take to complete?

• Are there any partially occupied properties within your business portfolio which need monitoring? If so, will they require any additional flushing/monitoring until full occupation?

• In terms of core social distancing measures needing to be adopted, do you think all parties concerned will be able to correctly adhere?

• Addressing each step on the roadmap to the re-opening of your business, what PPE will be necessitated as and when?

• Do you have a contingency plan in place, should any test results establish that bacteria is present?

With direct emphasis on the recommissioning of the internal water system, two hugely important questions need to be resolved from the outset.

• They are ,A) what the individual tasks are needed to complete with a dedicated view to getting everything back up and running again.

• And, B) how long will each step take to complete?

Other pivotal questions also need to be thrashed out by the powers that be, including identifying the individual(s) who'll be responsible for undertaking each provision and ascertaining that they're in receipt of suitable legionella training (and therefore competent). Should this not be the case, you must ask yourself if you are in a position to assist through delivery of the required training to produce this rudimentary assurance.

Are There Any Additional Factors Which Might Come Into Play?

Yes. Remaining on the current topic of lockdown (as imposed during a pandemic), all points cited beneath are relevant here and now; Will other staff/contractors facilitating the building be able to perform social distancing?

What is staff availability like in the foreseeable future? Sub-contractors may be called upon to assist with the process, so examining just what resources you have at your disposal will be crucial going forward. From equipment to test chemicals, what is the availability of stock, both internally and externally as you look to resume typical business practices?

Will your business be compliant with PPE controls, and will your workforce have sufficient quotas in accordance with COSHH to perform their duties?

Will laboratories have the capacity to receive and process water samples - post-disinfection - within the tight window of opportunity that allows the  microbiological samples to be viable (between 2 - 7 days)?

In the event that sample results provide evidence that bacteria is present in your business' water supply, would scheduled re-occupation be compromised? Or would additional temporary controls be applied/installed to allow the re-occupation and ensure the safety of the building's users?

As a footnote, it's important to remember that once the building has undergone a successful recommission, you should guard against the water systems stagnating in the immediate future and short-to-medium term. Ergo the initiation of a flushing strategy which encompasses all the outlets until occupation must be created and applied.

<Want to learn more about the water-borne pathogens that can inhabit domestic  water systems? Check out our infographic>

Who Should UK Businesses Approach To Help Plan Water System Roadmap Through Building Re-occupation?

Similar to during more orthodox times of occupied business spaces, there are a number of organisations who advocate various treatments of company's internal water storage systems. However with the return to eventual normal trading practices in a post-Lockdown business services landscape, the requirements are more immediate and proactively-based. Plus the need to incorporate ductwork distribution and extensive scrutinising of entire set-ups, together with attention paid to hard surfaces and fittings.

There is no one-solution-fits-all approach to this ethos, as some premises will have perpetuated ongoing PPM schedules throughout lockdown periods, irrespective of the cause. Obviously revising aspects to reflect individual circumstances. Meanwhile other businesses may have temporarily discarded their hitherto operational procedures during the forced shutdown. It makes no difference as to the whys and indeed, wherefores, as what matters most at this point of re-boot is the reviewing of written schemes/water safety plans ahead of re-occupation. Whereby employees are afforded reassurance that water-borne microbiological bacteria won't be an issue. Nor any other health-related concerns.

What About Re-commissioning of Water Outlets in Business Premises, Post-shutdowns?

For some companies and organisations fine-tuning their comebacks, it'll simply be a case of 'business as usual' in terms of their water treatment methodology and legionella control, providing dutyholders have been in a position to oversee things during the course of closures. Evaporative cooling towers will be judged on recent usage, and if behind-closed -doors practices were maintained, then hypothetically little will require amending.

Conversely, other sectors might have isolated their water systems as they sat out any imposed shutdowns, so they'll require cleaning/disinfecting, while water temperature checks will be incredibly important in advance of re-occupation. Similarly, any showers (or additional water spray outlets) will need to be subjected to a rigorous deep clean and disinfection process, before a building become fit for inhabiting once again.

Extreme mindfulness and all-enveloping caution is paramount when tackling the provision of drinking water sources; with taps, vending machines, water dispensers/coolers and ice-making equipment all potential high risk areas in this situation. Careful management is a primary consideration, as some of these assemblages may not have been facilitated for weeks or months. If the case, then thorough cleaning, flushing, replenishment and/or replacement of consumables (or water for standalone units) may be the way forward at this stage.

Any Other Areas That You Should be Aware of?

Yes. A building's sanitation and drainage infrastructures need addressing, to ensure that they're fully functional after a shutdown, and determine that they're blockage-free and contain water as per remits.

Summarising what businesses need to look towards committing time and manpower to, prior to re-commissioning a property after an unavoidable shutdown of a sustained period, and the following pointers shouldn't be discounted.

You need to confirm just how you plan to re-occupy premises, and cement processes the business needs to adhere to as a means to demonstrably prove your building services are both operational and safe.

• List building systems (and services) derived from recent usage

• Review any modified risk assessments, and update them

• Implement your re-start, cleaning, assessment and testing regimes as required
• Ensure you've arranged the services of any specialist partners early in the re-commissioning process to avoid any delays

• Don’t sample building services in isolation, or clean systems without a valid reason.

• Seek independent advice to balance a contractor's, whose business is primarily providing ancillary services.

• Document all your processes and procedures, more especially anything that's new (or different).

• Remember to include social distancing and other COVID-19 control measures as part of your new management procedures (specific as of June 2020)


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