How to Safely Restart your Business Utility Supplies Post-COVID 19
Life is getting back to normal and it’s more important than ever to ensure all safety measures are in place to welcome new and returning customers. How do I check if my water supply is safe to drink? How can I keep my customers safe with improved ventilation? These are some of the questions that we’ll cover below, so you have a better understanding of how to safely reopen your business and keep it running safely.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, restrictions were put in place by the UK government, which meant many businesses had to close or reduce their staff during the lockdown period.
Thanks to the successful vaccine rollout and with the end of all restrictions finally on the horizon, businesses are now reopening their premises to begin trading again. But what does this mean for your business and how do you begin to prepare to open after a long period of closure?
Check all electric and gas points are working
The first thing to do is to ensure everything is working correctly. Turn on all electric/gas points including any appliances so you know if any will need replacing before you reopen. It’s also a good idea to send your energy supplier an up to date meter reading so you know you’re only paying for the energy you consume.
If you have air-conditioning units, make sure these are operating properly.
There have been lots of articles published surrounding preventing the spread of COVID-19 in office buildings with ventilation and air conditioning units (HVAC).
Ventilation has been proven to be key to control the airborne route of COVID-19 in buildings and advice on specific components, buildings/space types, and suggesting mitigation measures can be found on the Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations (REHVA) website.
They advise to supply as much outside air as possible to increase air supply and exhaust ventilation and use more natural ventilation where possible (e.g. opening windows throughout the building). There’s no need to make any changes to your normal duct cleaning and maintenance procedures. Clogged air filters are also not a contamination source, however they should still be part of any good practice maintenance regime.
Generally, if your air conditioning unit has been shut down for a period of time, there are still things you need to check before switching back on.
It’s usually fine to leave your A/C unit off for up to 3-months, but when you switch it back on you need to check it.
If you have access, look at the outdoor compressor units. Is there any build-up of debris around it, is it blocked by anything? Remove if needed.
Is your A/C unit up to date on maintenance – if not then get it done before you switch it back on.
Run it on fan mode first (no thermostat), and let it blow for 10 minutes to get any dust out of the system before you turn it on.
If you have any concerns, speak to the company that manages your air conditioning maintenance to see if they can help.
Ensure your water supply is safe
Businesses should be aware of the importance of maintaining clean and safe water for public health purposes, and as your business may not have been using any water for a while, this is one of the most important things to check. Public Health England have said “Regular flushing out of the premises’ water system throughout the shutdown period is required”.
After an extended period of little or no use, buildings’ drinking water systems may have been subject to stagnation due to the low turnover of mains water or water in storage. This could have resulted in warming of water in internal plumbing systems, microbiological regrowth or increased uptake of plumbing metals. Unless steps are taken before the building is reoccupied, there’s a risk of adverse drinking water quality and potential risks to health (Drinking Water Inspectorate).
We also recommend that building owners are mindful of the risks to all non-drinking water systems too, such as heating systems, leisure systems and water used in production in line with their existing water management plans and from the relevant associations. Guidance on these systems should be sought from the relevant expert bodies, some of which are listed at the end of this document.
There are some simple steps businesses can take to ensure their water supply is safe for the reopening of their business premises (Water UK):
- Run all taps individually to make sure the plumbing system is fresh – this will be until the water is clear and feels cool to touch. It’s advised to start with the tap closest to the water outlet and move from tap to tap until you reach the most distant outlet.
- If the water is supplied from storage or storage cisterns, it should be emptied and filled with water directly from the incoming supply before the taps are flushed.
- When flushing, make sure this is done in a way that minimises any aerosol generation to reduce the risks of Legionella transmission. Appropriate PPE should also be worn throughout the flushing process
- Ensure all appliances are thoroughly flushed throughout before use, using a manufacturer’s instruction manual if required.
- If plumbers are required to make any changes or repairs to the plumbing system, then you must use approved plumbers under the WaterSafe scheme.
- If you are not sure whether your water is safe to use, then confirmatory testing is widely available for water systems.
For larger buildings with more complex pipework or tanks, this may require more extensive flushing followed by cleaning and disinfection. If you have a complex plumbing system you should ensure you have a competent person to oversee this work. Recommissioning your water supply should be in-line with your water safety management plan, including pressure testing all systems.
Consider whether there is a risk of spreading COVID-19 via your water supply
There may be new risks to your water supply as a consequence of COVID-19. Particularly, drinking water fountains or communal drinking water points where person to person transmission may occur, potentially presenting a new risk.
Considerations should be made to the design of the outlet to protect the outlet from direct contact by, in particular, the mouth. The outlet should preferably be free flowing without splashback and with sufficient space for a glass or bottle which then can be used for drinking. It may be ideal to introduce a short flush regime between users as an extra precaution.
If a new risk is identified, a competent person with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience should be consulted to consider if the design is appropriate and if cleaning regimes and subsequent use to mitigate the risk are effective (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). For example, your cleaning regime should be frequent and effective against contamination. However, any cleaning chemicals should be used so they don’t damage the outlet or leave residue which could then taint or is harmful to the user.
Key advice and guidance can be found from the following websites:
DWI Advice Letter 02/2020 – “Maintaining drinking water quality when reinstating water supplies after temporary closure due to the CoViD-19 outbreak”
Water UK / WRAS – “Looking after water in your home”
Regulators and government bodies:
DWI – www.dwi.gov.uk
DWQR – www.dwqr.scot
MOSL – www.mosl.co.uk
CMA Scotland – www.cmascotland.com
WaterSafe approved plumbers – www.watersafe.org.uk
Code of practice BS8680
Water safety plans
Code of practice: (Not yet published) BS EN 806-2:2005
Legionella Control Association
Awareness / interest