BS 8680:2020 Explained. Safeguarding Water Quality, the Importance of Water Safety Plans
In this article the water safety specialists at Legionella Control International take a detailed look at the British Standard BS 8680:2020 which covers water quality and the development of water safety plans for business.
We’ll discover who the standard is aimed at, what it covers, and the main features you should be aware of especially if you are a business owner or responsible for the health and safety of colleagues in the workplace.
A version of this story highlighting the guidance given in the water quality standard BS 8680:2020, along with the benefits to be gained from good water safety planning first appeared in Legionella Control International’s newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
What is BS 8680:2020?
The British Standard BS 8680:2020, Water quality – Water safety plans – Code of Practice, was effective from 31st May 2020.
It provides an excellent code of practice that covers the importance of and structure of a water safety plan or WSP for organisations of all shapes and sizes.
It also explores the process of developing this type of safety plan, maintaining it, and taking other actions as necessary that may influence or be influenced by the water plan itself.
What is a water safety plan or WSP?
A water system can provide both hot and cold water to all those using one or more buildings served by that system.
Appropriate safety measures should always be in place to ensure good water quality is maintained, and the water is always safe to use.
There are always risks associated with a water system, no matter how old, new, simple, or complex that system is.
A water safety plan (WSP) is a comprehensive plan that highlights all potential concerns and risks associated with a water system.
It should identify risks, such as the levels of bacteria in the water, and how those risks can be eliminated or at least controlled to within acceptable levels.
Water quality and Legionella bacteria
A good example of a water system risk would be contamination by Legionella bacteria.
If left to multiply within a water system, the bacteria could spark an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
Tiny droplets of water in the form of an aerosol that have become infected by legionella could potentially be inhaled by those using the premises (and in some cases, those nearby too, as in the case of a site including a cooling tower).
A water safety plan should identify these risks and take steps to mitigate them to keep people safe.
According to BS 8680 who should create and implement the water safety plan?
BS 8680 recommends that the water safety plan should be developed by a specialist team called the water safety group or WSG.
A water safety group is formed from a group of people appointed to take on the responsibility of identifying and managing all risks that are associated with the water systems.
All those who are chosen to become part of the water safety group should be competent to take on their roles.
BS 8680 identifies four water safety hazard groups
The introduction of BS 8680:2020 alone highlights the different hazards that may be present in a water system, breaking them down into four groups:
Clearly, the need for all individuals to possess suitable training, knowledge, and experience in this area of safety is of paramount importance.
Who is BS 8680:2020 aimed at?
This British Standard code of practice is a vital document that should be read and implemented by all those with a connection to or responsibility for the water systems in their workplace.
It specifically covers businesses and organisations of all sizes.
This may mean the business owner, health and safety personnel, and those involved in water safety and legionella risk assessment processes.
The British Standard is also valid for all stages of a water system’s life cycle.
For example, it should be considered when a new water system is designed for introduction in a new building.
It is also important during the construction and installation of that system.
The same applies to all those who play a role in maintaining and operating the water systems once installation is complete, regardless of size or complexity.
Certainly, some water systems are likely to be far more complex than others.
This is certainly true for older water systems that may have seen many changes, including extensions and refurbishments over the years.
Every stage of the water system, every change, every alteration – all these elements are important and relevant to the water safety plan and those who are responsible for developing and adhering to it.
Water safety risk assessment: The starting point for all businesses
It’s important to recognise that businesses can range from small one-person affairs to multi-site organisations.
A separate water safety plan should be implemented for each separate site.
In every case, a risk assessment of the water systems on site should be completed by someone who has the necessary skills and competency to do so.
In the case of a small building with one small bathroom and perhaps a small kitchen area, the owner, landlord, or manager of that building may be able to conduct a straightforward legionella risk assessment.
In such simple cases where nothing of significance is identified, nothing more may be required.
If you employ less than five people you still need to carry out a risk assessment but there’s no legal obligation to record your findings.
However, we always recommend you write them down as this will help with communication and management of the risks in your business.
There are other instances where buildings may have far more complex water systems to evaluate and assess for potential risks.
In such cases, it may be prudent for more than one person to take responsibility for the water safety risk assessment.
It may well cover multiple areas of expertise, requiring more than one individual to ensure all pertinent topics are covered.
These individuals should be part of the water safety group.
In some cases, hiring an external water safety and legionella risk assessment specialist such as Legionella Control International to cover this process may be the most sensible option.
Someone who is trained in risk assessments for water systems of all sizes and complexities, and who knows what to look for is essential.
Assess and address all potential water system risks
The water safety risk assessment should highlight all the potential hazards people may encounter while on site.
As mentioned earlier with the example of an air conditioning cooling tower, merely drinking or otherwise using the water on the premises may not be the only hazard.
If mist or fine droplets of water (called an aerosol) are ejected into the air, they could be inhaled by people.
Anyone who inhales legionella contaminated droplets could therefore be at risk of serious illness (Legionnaires’ disease) if the water contains excessive amounts of the bacteria or other harmful substances.
The bottom line is that the more involved and complicated a water system is, the more important it is for a qualified and competent person to handle the water risk assessment process.
The importance of receiving appropriate training and qualifications is of paramount importance for any risk assessment specialist.
While a competent individual could handle a simple assessment, it is very unlikely that without adequate training and relevant experience they could take on the risk assessment of a complex and large water system.
BS 8680:2020 also highlights the importance of identifying risk factors
This is another area of water safety risk assessment where having sufficient knowledge comes into play.
Some areas of aerosol production, where mist escapes from a water source and carries in the air where it can be inhaled, are obvious… others are less so.
Additionally, once these sources of have been identified as risk factors, the correct steps should be taken to ensure they are either removed or reduced to bring the risks down to acceptable levels.
Accounting for diverse risk factors across different industry sectors
BS 8680 also highlights how different buildings in different industries could see diverse risk factors emerge.
They give the example of carcinogens at industrial plants.
Another example highlights the risk of electric shocks if the electrical supply is permitted to make contact with the water supply.
Hazards are clearly not just confined to bacterial ones in the water itself.
Water safety risk factors may also be different depending on the type of people who are in the area and who may use the water supply.
For example, hospitals and other care facilities pose greater risk to those who are ill or infirm.
The British Standard covers the four potential hazard areas in more detail too… we noted these earlier in this article:
Developing the water safety plan
In formulating the water safety plan, individuals with expertise in one or more of the four hazard areas should participate in identifying all present hazards.
In the simplest of cases, such as a small property rented by a landlord, some of these elements may not be present or complex.
For example, radiological hazards would not likely be present in this example.
However, there may still be minor hazards that fall into the other three categories, albeit ones that are easily dealt with.
The same could not be said of a large industrial site, where it is likely all four areas would present potential challenges for those formulating the water safety plan.
The bigger and more complex the site, the more likely it is the water safety group should be comprised of several people, each with their own area of specialty.
BS 8680: 2020, water quality and the water safety plan
As you read through the BS 8680: 2020 document in detail, it becomes clear that there is a clear focus on water quality.
By working out where all the risk factors lie, it is much easier to maintain good water quality that should pose no danger to those in the vicinity.
This code of practice includes examples of how to develop a water safety plan, a checklist applicable to new build properties, and a list of possible documents that might be needed to support the plan itself.
The document provides a detailed guide every business owner or manager should follow.
While some areas may not be applicable to every business depending on size and type, it covers everything that should be thought of when creating a water safety plan.
This could be as simple as conducting a water safety and legionella risk assessment and determining that the water-based risks are low and require no further action.
However, if the building is complex and there are many risk factors connected to the water system, the water safety group can use the WSP to inform and influence their actions each day.
In doing so, and in following the guidance in the new BS 8680: 2020, it should be much easier to ensure the correct steps are being taken.
A safe water system is one that is understood, maintained, treated, and checked on a regular basis by those responsible for doing so – regardless of size, industry, or any other factor.
Legionella and water safety specialists
Our teams of water safety specialists support business owners and those responsible for health and safety in the workplace. Our risk management solutions are designed to support duty holders, the responsible person and those responsible for the control of waterborne pathogens and other water safety risks, helping them to protect their staff, customers and others and so meet their compliance obligations in this specialist area.
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