Do Universities Need an Authorising Engineer to Combat Legionella?
In this water safety review the experts at Legionella Control International consider how universities, colleges and other learning providers can benefit from the services of an experienced, independent advisor, called an Authorising Engineer (Water) to help mitigate their regulatory compliance risks from legionella bacteria and Legionnaires’ disease.
The article outlines the current regulatory environment for water safety in the UK, and goes on to consider the use of a more holistic approach to managing water safety risks associated with the management of large or multi-site property assets, complex facilities or those considered higher risk.
A version of this story dealing with the water safety compliance benefits an Authorising Engineer (Water) can bring to universities and other large scale learning providers appeared in Legionella Control International’s newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
How can universities benefit from using an independent Authorising Engineer (Water)
Businesses of all sizes must adhere to health and safety regulations laid down to maintain a safe water system and supply. The word ‘businesses’ also relates to many professional locations not always thought of as businesses – including hospitals, healthcare settings, local authorities, schools, universities and colleges.
As the demand for higher education grows, universities and college campuses continue to expand increasing the range and complexity of health and safety, and estates management roles.
Don’t forget, all buildings and venues a university or college is responsible for maintaining and running must adhere to current legislation regarding water safety including the control of legionella and Legionnaires’ disease.
There are various resources that can be drawn upon and used to assist those responsible for this aspect of workplace health and safety. Many are provided by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). They include:
- Legionnaires’ disease: A brief guide for duty holders
- L8 Approved Code of Practice (ACoP): The control of legionella bacteria in water systems
- HSG274 Legionella technical guidance
- This website also includes information concerning the control of legionella that you may find useful
How can a Water Safety Group help?
Another very useful document produced by the UK’s Department of Health and underpinned by codes and guidance from the HSE, called HTM 04-01, offers information about Water Safety Plans, Water Safety Groups and their role in maintaining safe water in healthcare premises.
It’s worthy of note that a Water Safety Group is now recognised as being able to deliver significant safety and compliance benefits to organisations well beyond the healthcare sector, especially in situations where there are lots of properties under management, those involving more complex buildings or those considered to be higher risk.
A key task for the members of the Water Safety Group is to create a Water Safety Plan which sets out how they can maintain the upkeep and safety of the hot and cold water systems for that building or multi-site estate.
But where does the Authorising Engineer for water come into this? And are they even needed?
The role of the Authorising Engineer (Water)
An Authorising Engineer (Water) is independent of, rather than being employed by the organisation or business that enlists their services. They can also be referred to simply as AE or AE (Water). In this example, the university would seek out the services of a qualified Authorising Engineer with experience in understanding water engineering, the control of legionella and the laws relating to health and safety in the workplace. Of course, in this case, we’re talking about the law as it relates to water safety.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 covers many aspects of safe working. Other health and safety documents, including the COSHH 2002 regulations, and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, would also be highly relevant.
An Authorising Engineer for water will have extensive knowledge of all the appropriate guidance documents and legislation that must be followed by the university to ensure regulatory compliance. They’ll be able to offer guidance and support to the university estates team and to ensure the law is followed and that the Water Safety Group meets its purpose in keeping people safe.
Typically, an AE will act as an independent assessor and make recommendations for the appointment of any people responsible for the control of legionella and water safety. They will also monitor the performance of control measures, and provide annual audits to evaluate the effectiveness of the controls put in place.
If we were to sum up the role of the Authorising Engineer in one word, we might choose ‘compliance’ as a relevant term. An AE ensures that the university or college complies with all legislation to ensure its water systems are safe and so it does not make any mistakes or have gaps in its approach to compliance. Even the simplest oversight, no matter how innocent, could result in a rise in legionella bacteria and an increased risk of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
Finding a competent person to be your Authorising Engineer
If you read through many of the documents we’ve mentioned here, you’ll be hard pressed to find any mention of an Authorising Engineer. However, you will notice the term ‘competent person’ coming up a few times.
According to the Health and Safety Executive, a competent person is someone who can supply the following elements:
- Training in the specific area, in this case, water safety
- Experience of assessing, evaluating, and maintaining a safe water system
- Other relevant skills or qualifications relevant to the situation
So, in the case of universities looking to provide safe water systems and to keep legionella bacteria at safe levels, a competent person must have appropriate training and experience in this area.
Why is it important to enlist the services of someone independent, outside the university?
A Water Safety Group should include people with relevant experience in their respective areas. For instance, one person may be familiar with certain areas the university estates team is responsible for, and therefore will have a greater understanding of those areas. Other members of the university team may not have that same knowledge, and therefore could not offer the same knowledge to the group.
While an Authorising Engineer would not possess knowledge specific to the buildings owned or managed by the university, they would have extensive knowledge of how to maintain a water system in accordance with current laws and best practice. It is this knowledge that brings a powerful additional feature to the Water Safety Group.
What are the advantages of enlisting an independent Authorising Engineer?
While there is no legal requirement for an Authorising Engineer to come on board, we can see how crucial it is to have an independent, competent person provide their services as part of the overall approach to health and safety here.
This is especially true of businesses that are responsible for the management of large or multi-site property assets, complex facilities or those that are considered higher risk. An Authorising Engineer (Water) is therefore the ideal person to provide those services in relation to water safety, maintenance of all relevant water systems, and more. This may also include regular sampling and providing advice on how to get rid of or mitigate risks.
In short, while many universities, schools and colleges may not need an Authorising Engineer from a legal standpoint, they do need one to ensure they do not fall foul of any of the relevant water safety laws in force today.
Leading water safety specialists and Authorising Engineers
Our Authorising Engineers (Water) and water safety specialists support those responsible for the control of legionella and other waterborne pathogens in the workplace, helping them to meet their health and safety obligations in this specialist area.
We are experienced in the role of Authorising Engineer (Water) and can assist organisations in the development of safety management teams, policies, and procedures to safeguard staff, clients and others across large scale and multi-site property portfolios, complex facilities and those considered to be higher risk.
If you have questions or you would like to speak with one of our AE Water specialists please call us today on 0330 223 36 87.