Schools - is your building safe to reopen?

In the absence of clear guidelines, but with June dates in wide circulation, schools are now urgently preparing their premises for reopening.

Whenever reopening happens, one potential brick wall they meet could be water hygiene, as recently highlighted in the media. However, school managers and local authorities should not panic buy expensive services before reviewing their particular circumstances. This is where a commitment to having established and maintained compliance will probably pay dividends!

However, if sampling and lab tests are required, it could take up to 14 days to get the results, which may then necessitate time-consuming remedial work. Indeed, the same concerns should apply to any commercial premises as well. Building managers should consult a water hygiene specialist urgently for advice on how to proceed.

The requirements of the Health and Safety Executives Approved Codes of Practice such as ACOP L8 and HSG274 Parts 1,2 & 3 do still apply. If compliance with their unambiguous best practice guideline has lapsed during shutdown, then extra services from specialist contractors and third party laboratory testing will almost certainly be required. Test results can take as long as two weeks to be returned and, if they reveal problems, further time has to be allowed for cleaning and disinfecting remedial work. None of this comes cheaply, so do assess your real position before panic buying.

Broadly premises fall into three categories:

1: Sites with established water hygiene management procedures that have been strictly maintained during lockdown.
These are sites which have a current risk assessment (less than 2 years old) , and where all urgent action points arising from it have been addressed. They will have turned off water heaters during shutdown, keeping water temperature below 20°C to inhibit the growth of pathogens, and maintained their usual regular flushing regime to help keep mains water levels of chlorine in the pipework. During shutdown they will have:
• Flushed all outlets weekly for a minimum of 2 minutes.
• Flushed showers weekly, on a mixed Hot & Cold setting to ensure both feeds are flushed for a minimum of 2 minutes each
• Kept a log, as usual, of all these flushes i.e.: TASK- Outlet Flushing, date & signature.

2: Sites with established water hygiene management compliance procedures that have lapsed during shutdown.
The biggest risk on these sites will usually be due to stagnant water. If regular flushing has not been done, then the building should not be used before flushing and disinfecting and testing has been commissioned. However, do start flushing again as soon as possible, as that could reduce the microbial count below test threshold levels. After a lapse in compliance, you will still need to commission cleaning and disinfection in accordance with the risk assessment, followed by testing to ensure there is no residual infection. You should arrange this as soon as possible, but your past vigilance may well have avoided infection and a good test result will be the green light to reopening.

3: Non-compliant sites.
Lapses do occur. These sites may not have a current risk assessment or asset register (an understanding of their system) and/or have never maintained and logged a flushing regime. They will need to commission a risk assessment which ideally will become the basis for future compliance, as well as disinfection and testing.

What urgent water hygiene services might you need before reopening?

Disinfection and flushing the whole system.

Bacteriological sampling of:
1. Incoming main
2. Cold water service tank(s).
3. Hot water cylinders/calorifiers drains.
4. Selected number of hot and cold-water outlets.

A full Risk Assessment of your system (if not already in place and up to date).
1. Carry out any remedial actions identified.
2. Recommission your system to operational standards.

Email: mark.rowe@airmec.co.uk or call direct on 07736 385 994.

Water and air hygiene  Services in southern and midlands England and Wales

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