Industry, as the main consumer of water in the UK, must understand the health and safety risks posed by working with such large volumes of water, says Geoff Shalders.
3 December 2015 | By Geoff Shalders
Earlier this year the European Union published a report entitled Water Use In Industry.
It found that manufacturing and energy production together account for over 70 per cent of total water use in most EU countries, most of it used for cooling purposes.
It is vital that manufacturing and industrial companies, as the predominant users of water in the UK, understand the health and safety risk associated with working with such large quantities of water. Risks must be controlled not only in the domestic water systems, but also in processing plant water.
These risks can include the build-up of Legionella, the bacteria responsible for causing legionnaires' disease, as well as other harmful microbes, such as Cryptosporidium - found in water supplies in Lancashire earlier this year. Failure to comply with the standards set by the Health and Safety Executive can result in big fines and even criminal charges.
Here's a look at what facility managers and premises working in the sector can do to make sure of a safe supply.
1. Assessing the risk
All companies must make sure they comply with risk assessment and health and safety standards. You must understand how to identify and assess sources of risk, manage those risks, prevent or control them, and maintain the correct records.
For manufacturing and industrial companies, common sources of Legionella bacteria will include water tanks and cooling towers and similar systems that tap into a public water supply. Certain conditions are also more likely to see greater bacterial growth. For example, the risk is higher where water temperature in all or some parts of the system is between 20-45°C. It is also greater where water is stored or recirculated and where rust, sludge or scale are present, as this provides nutrients that speed bacterial growth. Risk of exposure to Legionella bacteria will then be greatest at the point where water droplets are produced and dispersed over a wide area, for example, from cooling tower aerosols.
Many premises in the manufacturing and industry sector also include machinery and systems that are specifically listed by the HSE as requiring regular inspection. These include ultrasonic humidifiers, spray humidifiers, water softeners, fire, dust and odour suppression systems and industrial effluent treatment plants.
It is recommend that a thorough Legionella risk assessment is undertaken to control such risks. This will include a documented assessment including pipework schematics and photographic evidence, and a report of any significant findings.
2. Water tank servicing and maintenance
Water tank surveys and thorough testing of hot and cold water systems throughout the building should also be undertaken to ensure that the system is functioning in a way that minimises favourable conditions for microbial growth. The water storage tank is one of the most valuable assets at any facility, and regular servicing will keep it at its optimal level of operation.
Tanks should be inspected regularly by industry professionals to maintain structural and sanitary integrity. Maintenance can include an annual full tank clean and chlorination. This process is one of the most common and effective forms of water treatment and involves either injecting sodium hypochlorite (chlorine) into the system through an injection point on the mains cold water system or by dosing the tank itself. Despite the concerns many FMs raise about disruption, it only takes about an hour for the chlorine to work, after which the tank can be flushed and normal use resumed.
Systems such as humidifiers or sprinklers may also need to be shut down or disconnected to allow parts to be thoroughly disinfected, but again this process can be managed quickly and normal production resumed within hours.
3. Water testing and sampling
A regular water testing service will determine your water quality throughout the system and demonstrate that it meets legal standards. The process involves two essential stages - taking an accurate water sample and producing a high-quality analysis of this sample. There are several key steps that must be undertaken to make sure sampling is carried out accurately and that results can be trusted. Water samples should be carefully collected in a sterile container and sent to an UKAS-accredited laboratory for testing. All samples should be taken for analysis within 24 hours, before which they should be kept in a cool box or a refrigerator.
Making sure your Legionella risk assessments and control procedures meet both legal obligations and best practices should be seen as an investment and an ultimately cost-effective way to manage the vast amounts of water used by companies in industry sectors. Using a combination of regular risk assessments, a thorough understanding of the existing water system setup and regular remedial works, it is possible to drastically reduce the chances of contamination - and detect and destroy problems before they escalate.
Geoff Shalders is managing director at Brodex Ltd