Building water management during COVID-19, what is it saying about FM?

Greg Davies

Greg Davies
Director of Market Development, Assurity Consulting
18th November 2020

What is equally apparent is that FM is therefore, also in this spotlight, as both elements will be delivered in no small part through their activities.

Particularly with air and water quality, where it has been widely published, we could have issues, much has been focussed on operation and usage, whether that is increasing air flow or managing water under usage. In supporting these efforts, advice and guidance has been provided by enforcers (HSE and CIEH) to Institutes (CIBSE, IWFM, BSI, etc.) and a host of service providers, including Assurity Consulting.

Your water management strategy will also depend on how your systems and services have been left, with outcomes still ranging from unoccupied to ‘relatively normal usage’.

How your water systems have historically performed should also influence the type and effectiveness of any changes made to your written schemes of management. Unfortunately, it is rarely a one size fits all response that works and as with your Legionella risk assessment and written schemes they need to be specific to the building and premises they are created for. Your control of the water system will be demonstrated through the checking, testing and inspections and actions you need to take as a result of them (if any).

At Assurity Consulting, we’ve been using our UKAS accredited site and laboratory procedures to track and assess actual performance (since lockdown) across now hundreds of buildings, through 10,000’s of tests and samples. In turn, we have then used our database to develop two benchmarks as a comparison, these are:

  • What we found over the same time period in 2019 (currently March to October); and
  • The average figures over the whole of the 2018 and 2019.

Air quality

There continues to be an excellent quality of air being delivered across our customer’s sites and locations, both microbiologically and in terms of Carbon dioxide level references we have used. Results for each parameter were improved on the already very good findings of both reference periods.

Water quality

Legionella findings, in contrast to several recent reports/bulletins, have shown no change or increase over the historic findings. Cooling tower results in fact identify a 2% reduction against the two-year cumulative, while hot and cold water systems have remained consistent at a 98% Legionella not detected rate.

For drinking water, and using E.coli and coliforms as indicators, results are also very good with over 99% of samples meeting the relevant standards and again findings being slightly better than 2019 and the 2 year average.

Total viable counts (TVC) for general bacterial activity from evaporative cooling systems and hot and cold water systems, as well as Pseudomonas aeruginosa testing (mainly drinking water dispensers and as a result of being left and not cleaned), are all still trending above the averages for both comparative time periods.

For evaporative cooling systems TVC results are only slightly up with 8% indicating that further action is needed against the two-year average of 5%. Many of these slightly raised results also relate to ‘system fine tuning’ rather than out of control situations – for example, the increased load on cooling towers was brought about by the combination of warm weather and increased run times for air handling units as an influencing factor.

With hot and cold water systems, there has been a more notable increase, with 21% of results indicating further action is needed against a 12% figure for both reference periods. The 21% in March to October 2020 figure has also been coming down from a high of 26% in March to August 2020. Again, the warm summer period has played a part here, but there have been a range of other influences. Under flushing or more often the need for more targeted flushing, were the two biggest influences and both were easily rectifiable. There have been instances where investigation have uncovered more fundamental causes for these issues (previously inaccessible areas of systems with unlagged/poor pipework configuration/deadlegs etc.), but these have been the exception.

Overall findings within the sample group of our customers, have shown that, even at its worst, approximately 75% of buildings were able to demonstrate very good control of their water quality. It must be recognised too though that the majority of the testing has been carried out in buildings where risk assessment, water management systems and training have been regularly reviewed and updated, and from a position where effective control had been previously established and maintained.

In conclusion, and from our experience, what this analysis has so far told us is that good management usually leads to effective control. But that has always been the case and something FM is already aware of.