Approvals: A risky business

Approvals: A risky business

Almost two years into the AMP6 program and the shift to adopting a total expenditure (Totex) model is slowly taking hold across the water industry. With OFWAT encouraging water companies to look at whole-life cost assessments, putting more consideration into operational costs, the long-term performance and longevity of products and systems should be at the forefront of any upgrade to water treatment assets.

A simple way to ensure products will stand the test of time is to look at the standards and approvals they possess, yet for an industry governed by regulations, it is surprising that so many unapproved systems are being installed and pipework systems are no exception. Our recent research revealed that almost half (43%) of contractors, consultants and end users have retrospectively discovered that products, which do not hold the relevant industry approvals, have been installed on water treatment projects.

It seems some designers, consultants and contractors are risking the potential dangers that come with installing unapproved systems to help them put in a more cost competitive tender, with price winning over quality, safety and performance. Nearly half of those questioned (46%) divulged they would consider installing an unapproved product if it was more cost effective than an approved alternative. This is potentially risking the quality and integrity the system, therefore installers working with unapproved products need to be ready to accept the consequences.

The Water Regulations that govern the water treatment industry are there to protect the public and the environment and failure to adhere to these could have serious consequences, not just for the water authorities, but all parties within the supply chain. More than 17 billion litres of water travel through hundreds of thousands of kilometres of pipes and millions of joints, valves and pumps each day in the UK and all pipework must meet the requirements of the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999.

Pipework upstream of the consumers stop valve must also comply with the Water Industry Act 1991 (2003) Section 69 and with the Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 2000/2001 (Regulation 31.) A letter of approval from the Secretary of State confirms compliance with Regulation 31 and is detailed in the “list of approved products” published on its website. This is a very stringent test to pass for many thermoplastic systems.

Pipework downstream of the consumers stop valve must also comply with the UK (Water) Regulators Specification. Compliance is demonstrated by an approval certificate from WRAS (Water Regulations Advisory Scheme).

Water authorities have a responsibility to meet these requirements, in order to ensure they are not putting at risk the health of those within the community they serve. If a Water Authority is found not to be complying with the water regulations, either OFWAT or DEFRA can take action against the company. Depending upon the scale of the breach, this could mean taking legal action to ensure the company replaces products and systems, or, in the worst cases, a financial penalty of up to 10% of the company’s turnover can be imposed.

However, it is not solely the responsibility of the water authority to ensure the regulations are met; there are consequences for non-compliance with regulations, for all parties involved in the water treatment chain, from water authorities through to installers, contractors and specifiers.

If a contractor or installer is found to have installed unapproved products, they could be requested to replace the entire installation with approved products, at their own cost. As the regulations become stricter, this is becoming more of a risk for contractors, particularly as they are under increasing pressure to demonstrate cost savings, so approvals are often overlooked in favour of price.

Plastic pipework has long been the material of choice for water treatment applications, but we are advising that people working within the industry should be careful not to presume that a product has the right approvals, just because it is the system that has always been used. This is particularly true of refurbishment projects, when contractors replace the pipework with a like-for-like product, but do not check that it still has approval, or in some cases that it ever did.

The requirements to meet approvals change over time and the testing requirements to demonstrate compliance with Regulation 31 have become more stringent over recent years. At one time, plastic pipework materials that used, now banned, heavy metal based stabilisers were approved, but it is no longer the case and the public is now protected from the risk of such substances leaching out into the drinking water and causing contamination. This means that certain systems, that once had approval, will no longer meet the requirements.

We share the objectives of Water Authorities, WRAS and the UK Water Regulator to provide drinking water of the highest quality and so are committed to providing products that meet and exceed the stringent standards that exist in the UK. As a result, the pipework manufacturer is constantly investing in developing its products in line with the evolving regulations.

We are keen to stress that not all plastic pipework systems are the same; we are the only manufacturer of PVC-U pipe to hold both WRAS approval and to be listed in Regulation 31 ‘List of approved products, published by the DWI”. By installing this system, water authorities and contractors can be reassured that they are installing products that are safe to use with drinking water and will not result in any legal action or penalties from regulatory bodies.

The majority of consumers do not have a choice about where their drinking water comes from, so they trust that it is safe to drink. Therefore, it is the responsibility of water authorities to ensure, with all due diligence, that they are conforming to all water regulations to ensure they do not lose the trust of the public and avoid facing heavy legal and financial implications from the industry regulators. Similarly, if contractors want to continue to win business from the water treatment industry, they need to ensure they are checking approvals so the Water Authorities can be confident they are installing safe products.

When looking at the lifetime costs of a project, a fully approved system will not only provide the reassurance of performance longevity, but reduces the risk of unexpected maintenance or replacement costs due to system failures. A collaborative approach to water treatment projects, and early engagement with the supply chain, is vital to ensure that the most effective systems, for the lifetime of a project, are being specified and installed.

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