Why Developing a Hospital Water Management Policy is Important
In this review the water safety healthcare experts at Legionella Control International take a detailed look at how the development of hospital water management policies can facilitate significant water safety improvements that help to keep people safe from the harmful effects of waterborne pathogens.
Good water safety planning, led by members of a well-constructed water safety group (WSP) can promote good practice and deliver safe water supplies in hospital and healthcare environments.
A version of this story dealing with water safety planning in hospitals first appeared in Legionella Control International’s newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
Why have a hospital water management policy?
Legionnaires’ disease is a serious condition that affects the lungs and can be fatal – and it can strike anyone of any age.
However, those who are 45 years and over, those who have long-term health issues, and those with a compromised immune system are most likely to be at risk.
You may wonder how this is connected to the implementation of a water management policy in a hospital.
Put simply, nearly all cases of Legionnaires’ disease are preventable.
Cases of the disease occur when poorly managed water systems allow the bacteria that cause it, called Legionella bacteria to grow uncontrollably to contaminate the water in the system to dangerous levels.
The UK’s safety regulators consider Legionnaires’ disease to be a preventable illness
This contaminated water may then be inhaled if an aerosol or fine mist is created from say a shower, spray tap or air conditioning tower.
Why should hospitals be concerned about Legionnaires’ disease?
Hospitals treat many people of all ages for a variety of illnesses, ailments, and injuries.
Since many of those using the facilities or staying under the care of a hospital will be elderly, infirm, or already poorly, there is a greater chance an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease might affect them.
Hence why a hospital water management policy is so important.
What is a water management policy?
A water management policy is a formal control document designed to safely manage the water systems in place in the designated hospital or healthcare facility.
The policy covers the water supplies within a hospital including drinking water, hot and cold water systems, and other outlets connected to the system.
It also covers all water storage containers, tanks, heaters and other devices throughout the water system.
The water management policy should be created to comply with all relevant and current legislation regarding health and safety in this area including those documents published by the Health and Safety Executive and Department of Health.
Why should you create a policy dealing with water safety?
A formal water management policy forms a crucial part of the safe management of the water systems in place at a hospital.
While some business premises and other shared locations have simple water systems and basic requirements regarding water safety, hospitals are at the other end of the scale.
The water systems are likely to be far more complex, perhaps spread over several buildings and a much wider area.
Additionally, a significant proportion of those who use these hospital water systems are likely to be considered more at risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease.
The changing needs of a hospital might also be more likely to result in frequent alterations to the water systems, extensions, unused areas, under or oversized water storage vessels, areas of low flow, reduced hot water temperatures, dead legs and other areas that may encourage stagnation within the system.
External parties such as maintenance and facilities contractors might also require access to the system to complete various works.
All these things plus many more can raise the risk of legionella contamination and proliferation.
With all this in mind, it’s easy to see how legionella bacteria could take hold of a water system more easily if a proper water management policy is not in place.
This type of policy is designed specifically to identify the risks within the system and the necessary steps to mitigate those risks as much as possible.
In short, creating a hospital water management policy that covers all the bases reduces the risk of that hospital ever having to deal with an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease and the consequences this may bring with it.
How to develop a hospital water management policy
The water management policy sets out what must be done and who is responsible for doing it.
It provides a very useful framework for maintaining a safe water system within the hospital.
There are more than a dozen legislative documents and regulations that relate to this policy.
These include the Department of Health’s Health Technical Memorandum HTM 04-01 (Safe water in healthcare premises), the Health and Safety Executives ACOP L8 and HSG274, and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
The hospital must make sure it adheres to all such legislation and policies.
A thorough understanding of the water systems and facilities in place at the hospital must form the basis of the planning stage for the policy.
A hospital is likely to encompass several buildings and have several water storage tanks in place for coping with the demands on the supply.
It is necessary to plan which areas are supplied by which tanks and how the relating pipework is laid out.
This plan will indicate where the prospective risks may occur in the water systems.
A legionella or water safety risk assessment will highlight these, and any other areas of risk associated with the water systems, and suggest steps that should be taken to reduce or minimise them.
What about the water safety plan or WSP?
Once all the ground work has been completed a water safety plan (WSP) can then be created to cover those risks and to indicate how they can be safely managed.
A multi-disciplinary water safety group (WSG) should then be appointed to make sure the water safety plan is implemented in a timely manner and adhered to.
What is the role of the water safety group?
The water safety group should consist of various members, each likely to have their own specialism.
Some will be experienced in the workings of the water system itself such as the Authorising Engineer (Water), while others will be experienced in the needs of those using the hospital.
Other members of the group will highlight how water is used within specific areas of the hospital – areas where usage may be very different from that in other parts of the hospital.
The water safety group is collectively responsible for identifying hazards connected with the water systems and implementing measures to keep those hazards under control so people remain safe.
Regular group meetings ensure any changes in the use of the water systems in any part of the hospital can be considered with an eye on safety above all else.
Who has overall responsible for the hospital water management policy?
There are many people all contributing to the successful implementation of the hospital water management policy and its upkeep.
However, the appointed statutory duty holder will be the person who is responsible above all others for ensuring all the necessary steps are taken when looking after the water systems used in a hospital environment.
- If you are the duty holder or responsible person you may need additional water safety training to understand both the risks and your legal obligations better
Hospital and healthcare water safety specialists
Our teams of hospital and healthcare water safety specialists support those responsible for the control of waterborne pathogens including Legionella bacteria in the workplace, helping them to protect people and meet their health and safety obligations in this specialist area.
We deliver professional water safety risk assessments for legionella, pseudomonas and other waterborne pathogens, Authorising Engineer (Water) services, water testing, independent compliance auditing, City & Guilds training and other environmental risk management services that help keep staff and others safe.