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Water Supplies In Public Buildings

UNISON Scotland's response to Scottish Executive Environment Group Consultation on Water Supplies in Public Buildings (Paper 2002/)

June 2002

Executive Summary

UNISON welcomes the Scottish Executive consultation to strengthen regulations governing the quality of drinking water in public buildings. We believe in the interests of public health and safety the standards of drinking water in public buildings such as schools, hospitals, community centres, and in restaurants should be improved to protect individuals consuming this water.

We support the proposals for more rigorous testing and monitoring of water available for public consumption within public buildings. In addition we believe that results and information on water quality in public buildings should be readily available to the general public, to promote confidence in water quality and to encourage public buildings to meet the water standards.



UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing over 145,000 members working in the public sector. As the largest trade union in the Scottish water industry, UNISON members are both providers and users of water in Scotland. UNISON welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Scottish Executive's consultative paper Water Supplies in Public Buildings. This response needs to be seen in the context of our previous submissions to recent Scottish Executive consultations on the water industry.

We welcome the proposals to strengthen existing rules, and to develop a robust regulatory framework governing the quality of drinking water in public buildings. The provision of healthy and safe water to all Scottish people is crucial to the wider public health and social inclusion agenda. Our responses to the questions posed in the consultation document emphasise the need for clear and robust regulations, regular and appropriate monitoring, and transparency and openness in reporting on water quality in public buildings.

This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the consultation document issued by the Scottish Executive Environment Group - Water Supplies in Public Buildings.


Consultation Point 1

UNISON believes that the register of public buildings should be determined by the local authority with guidance from the Scottish Executive. Local authorities will have local knowledge of public buildings in their own areas, and so will be best placed to devise their own registers of public venues. It will be easier to amend and add new public buildings to a locally held register, than to a national scheme. However, clear guidance on the register should be provided by the Scottish Executive. UNISON would expect that this additional role for local authorities be acknowledged in additional funding for local government from central government in order that they have the resources and personnel to carry out these additional functions.

Consultation Point 2

Monitoring of water in public buildings should be based on a common sense approach that takes into account the number of people using the building, the size of the establishment, and the quality of water registered in previous tests.

The standard monitoring frequency for public buildings should be based on the normal occupancy of the building with a facility to reduce the frequency if it can be shown that the water is compliant with the regulatory standards. However, we believe that it is important that standards are not allowed to slip and there should be a minimum of one visit per annum for public buildings.

Consultation Point 3

UNISON believe that there should be guidelines from the Executive on the labelling of water taps in public buildings that is not for drinking. Such guidelines should include best practice on including labels in the appropriate language of people who are likely to use the building. For example, public buildings in areas where a number of minority ethnic communities use the building should display labels in an appropriate language, likewise if the building is to be used by partially sighted people Braille labels should be used. In public buildings where it is possible that members of the public may wish to use water to boil kettles or for cooking, for example in community centres, labels should clearly indicate if tap water is unsuitable for this purpose.

Consultation Point 4 and 5

Again UNISON believes a common sense approach should be taken to monitoring water, with samples taken from a number of taps at random, in proportion to the size of the building. The taps should be identified and selected by the sampler at the time the water samples are taken.

Consultation Point 6

UNISON agrees that the suggested list of parameters to be monitored is about right. The monitoring of these parameters should identify any public health concerns.

Consultation Point 7

In the interests of accountability and transparency, UNISON believes that the results of regulatory sampling should be reported to the owner of the building, the local authority and the Scottish Executive. It is important that the public should be able to access this information so as they can make informed decisions on the water they drink.

Consultation Point 8

The results of regulatory sampling should be prominently displayed in the public building (along the lines of the clean beach flags) and be kept on public record by the local authority and the Scottish Executive.

Consultation Point 9

The requirement to notify breaches of the Regulations to Scottish Ministers is necessary to give transparency and accountability to the enforcement process. However we are certain that given adequate resources, local authorities will be able to ensure effective enforcement of the regulations.

Consultation Point 10

The power to issue authorised departures for water quality standards in public buildings should rest with local authorities. However there should be a process where the Scottish Executive can monitor the number and frequency of authorised departures issued by local authorities. This will help to keep the local authorities accountable, and to ensure that the highest standards of water health and safety are adhered to.


Additional Comments

It is vital that there are robust systems and safeguards to improve and maintain drinking water standards in public buildings. The Executive has ensured that Scottish Water has to meet the highest standards in its abstraction, impoundment, and delivery of water to the public. It is important that public buildings, whether under the auspices of local authorities, health trusts, education authorities, or private companies / individuals, meet their obligations to ensure water gets to individuals safely. Although the threat to Scottish Water of competition is diminishing for the immediate future, it is important to remember that off-network services do still exist and are open to competition. In some areas the off-network service is likely to provide water to public buildings. The Executive will have to be mindful of carefully considering monitoring and responsibility issues in these circumstances.


For further information please contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
UNISON Scotland
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk


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