Maintaining Property Statutory Examinations / Inspections During The Covid-19 Outbreak

Background

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented a range of challenges for Property Managers with many restrictions on normal operations. This may include difficulty of getting support from contractors in carrying out statutory inspections, examinations and test of plant and equipment or the need to actually close premises.

Although the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is not carrying out any inspections of industries outside of the major hazard sectors, they have made clear that the responsibility for ensuring that statutory inspection, examination and testing of plant and equipment remains with the dutyholder. It is important to mention at the outset that failure to carry out a statutory inspection, examination and test would be a breach of legislation, which could lead to a range of potential enforcement actions including prosecution, although some requirements will not apply when premises are closed. However, failure to maintain some systems, particularly fire safety systems may invalidate the insurance for the premises even if the premises are not in use.

There is a wide range of legislation that requires statutory inspections, examinations and tests. Much of this legislation is goal setting, detailing what is to be achieved without being prescriptive on how it is achieved. Compliance with these goals is often achieved by following HSE and industry guidance, British Standards and manufacturer information. While these may set recommended time frames for maintenance, inspection and testing of plant and equipment, they are not strict statutory requirements, and failure to follow them would not necessarily be a breach of legislation. However, there are some statutory requirements for thorough examination and inspection or testing, for plant such as lifts, lifting equipment and pressure systems, which include a set time frame e.g. Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 and Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000.

Working on Site

Engineers / contractors working at the premises should follow current guidance on distancing and good hygiene as recommended by Public Health England, as well as any specific site rules. This is to protect the engineers carrying out the work as well as anyone who may be affected by their work or presence. The HSE advises that where it identifies employers not complying with the relevant Public Health England guidance e.g. not taking appropriate action to socially distance, it will consider actions to improve control such as issuing improvement notices.

What Plant and Equipment to Examine and Test

Dutyholders should consider whether it is essential to continue to use plant and equipment in the current circumstances. It is not appropriate for persons to be put at risk to carry out statutory examinations, inspections and tests for plant and equipment, which is not essential for the safe operation of premises. If taking plant out of use is putting vulnerable persons at risk, a careful decision would need to be made and it may be prudent to seek further advice. It is important that this should only be considered when failure to keep plant and equipment operating poses a genuine risk to vulnerable persons’ safety from rather than cause an inconvenience.

It is essential that irrespective of statutory inspection, examination or test that plant and equipment is maintained in good working order and is safe for continued use. If there are any identified faults with plant or equipment, which could lead to a risk from its operation, it should be taken out of use and securely isolated to prevent further use until the necessary repairs have been completed.

 Key points To Consider

  • Assess which plant and equipment require statutory inspections and examinations and when these are due.
  • Make an assessment to determine if any plant or equipment is essential for safety or operation of the premises – if plant or equipment is not required, it could be taken out of use.
  • Liaise with the relevant contractors who carry out statutory inspections and examinations to determine what level of service they can provide.
  • If a decision is made to continue to use plant or equipment despite it not having had the relevant statutory examination and inspection in order to safeguard life, it is essential that this reasoning is recorded.
  • Inform your insurance company if any planned inspection and testing is not being completed or if premises or part of the premises are closed.
  • If closing premises for a period of time, and where it is decided to shut off the power to services such as electrical, gas, water and ventilation systems, plant shutdowns should be undertaken in accordance with manufacturer instructions to ensure that it is done safely. On subsequent restart manufacturer guidance should be followed to ensure that the plant is re-energised safely and to avoid potential damage.
  • Follow Public Health England recommendations on hygiene and social distancing (maintain two metres between people).

If you require further information or advice regarding Maintaining Property Statutory Examinations / Inspections During The Covid-19 Outbreak, please contact Quantum Compliance.

Further Advice for Legionella Control During The COVID-19 Outbreak

Quantum Compliance have issued general advice on management of water systems during the Covid-19 outbreak on 23rd March. This advice note provides further, more specific and practical advice for hot and cold water systems, and evaporative cooling systems.

Hot and Cold Water Systems

Low Occupancy

Hot and cold water systems in buildings that are empty or with low occupancy must address the issue of stagnation:

If the building is still partially in use take additional measures to keep the remaining occupants safe:

  • If possible, drop stored water levels in tanks to maintain <24 hours storage.
  • Flush to simulate use – weekly flushing may not be sufficient. (See Hygiene Flushing below).
  • Monitor temperatures to ensure thermal gain in cold water is controlled.
  • If fitted, consider temporarily increasing levels of potable water treatment dosing – consider other consequences of this such as corrosion.
  • If controls are lost (temperature, biocide levels, etc.) the guidance in HSG274 is to sample for legionella on a weekly basis.
  • Consider other short term measures to keep remaining occupants safe such as point of use filters at designated locations with other areas shut off.

Mothballing

Buildings that are temporarily shut down (mothballed) should follow the guidance in HSG274 Part 2 paragraphs 2.50-2.52:

  • Do not drain down pipework.
  • If possible, remove sources of heat and external thermal gain.
  • Lock off, place signage on doors and otherwise advise potential users that the system has been taken out of use.
  • Have a plan in place for recommissioning the water system.

For all of the work detailed above, there should be a task risk assessment in place to ensure operatives are working safely.

Recommissioning Hot and Cold Water Systems

The minimum expectation for small, simple hot and cold water systems would be flushing through with fresh mains water.  Larger buildings, those with tanks, showers, calorifiers and more complex pipework, the expectation is likely to be for more extensive flushing followed by cleaning and disinfection.

In all cases where systems are being recommissioned, it is sensible to have evidence to prove/reassure that the recommissioning process has been effective. Legionella sampling to BS7592 should be considered for recommissioning plans to validate the effectiveness of the process.  As per HSG274 part 2, samples should be taken 2-7 days following recommissioning and not on the day of disinfection.

Hygiene Flushing of Hot and Cold Water Systems

All outlets which are not in regular use (generally taps and showers) should be subject to a minimum of weekly flushing. This will need to include Landlord and Tenant services.

This procedure has to be sustained and logged.

All infrequently used equipment within a water system (i.e. not used for a period equal to or greater than seven days) should be included on the flushing regime.

Flush the outlets until the temperature at the outlet stabilises and is comparable to supply water:

  • Cold Water Service: within 2°C of the CWS Tank nearest outlet and < 20°
  • Hot Water Service: >50°C or < 20°C if no longer heated. (Note keep circulating pumps running)

If thermometer equipment is unavailable then flushing outlets for 5 minutes is recommended, however recording temperatures is preferable to demonstrate compliance.

Toilet cisterns should just be flushed once a week, as should urinals.

Where the hot and cold water is not used for a prolonged period and has not been flushed as recommended, for example, this could be as little as two or three weeks, but will depend on the ambient temperature, the condition of the water system, potential for exposure to aerosols and the susceptibility of users should be considered in a specific risk assessment. Hot and cold water services should be cleaned, flushed and disinfected, as specified in PD855864.

Evaporative Cooling Systems (Cooling Towers and Evaporative Condensers)

Evaporative cooling systems should be maintained as usual or switched off  –  there is no leeway in this.

Evaporative cooling systems should already have robust start-up and shut-down procedures in place and the expectation is that these will be followed.

At Quantum Compliance we continue to monitor government advice regarding the coronavirus pandemic, and we will update our guidance as necessary. During any periods of restricted travel, we will remain contactable to advise and assist.

If you require further information or advice regarding legionella control or have concerns specific to maintaining the risks associated with legionella bacteria during the coronavirus pandemic please contact our Principal Water Consultant, Tom de Ronde, tom.deronde@qcompliance.co.uk