In a care home, there's nothing more important than creating a safe, hygienic, and comfortable environment in which to provide a compassionate service to those who need us most. To some extent, this means investing in vital pieces of equipment designed to help us look after our residents, such as hoists and wheelchairs - but it also means complying with critical laws and regulations too.
In the UK, there has been a long history of regulation for plumbing systems in both homes, and businesses alike. The Water Regulations Advisory Scheme (WRAS) and the Scottish Water Byelaws both contribute to protecting health, and promoting the efficient use of water across the country. These guidelines (introduced in 1999) prevent the waste, undue consumption, misuse, incorrect measurement of, and inefficient use of water, to help avoid waste and contamination.
While the WRAS regulations place legal duties upon any individual who installs plumbing systems or water fittings in a property, care home managers and owners face some of the biggest responsibilities. After all, it's up to us to care for people who may be unable to protect themselves, which often means a 24/7 reliance on water usage.
The WRAS regulations apply from the point where water enters a property, and dictate that there must be no unnecessary consumption or waste of water. What's more, the guidelines outline that all appliances must have proper backflow protection, so as to protect the water supply from contamination.
Risk assessments place care homes as amongst the premises which pose the highest contamination risk to the mains water supply, making them a ‘Fluid Category 5’ residence. This means that while you're installing ergonomic grab bars to protect your residents, you should also be thinking about ways you can protect your community by following the legal requirements in place for the installation, design, maintenance, and operation of water fittings, plumbing systems, and water-using appliances.
You might assume that no-one would attempt to sell a plumbing fitting that would be illegal to install - after all, protecting the community is a group effort - however, you'd sadly be mistaken. The Water Supply Regulations of 1999, and the Water Fittings Byelaws of 2014 determine that it is the care home manager, or owner's duty to ensure that all fittings are compliant, but do not dictate that it's illegal to sell such a fitting in the first place.
In other words - it's up to you to make sure that you're compliant. If you're purchasing or installing water fittings, this means conducting thorough research into every product you buy. Just as you would check the quality of an electric commode system before you bought it, complying with WRAS regulations means checking for WRAS product approval on everything from valves, to heating systems, and underground supply pipes.
After all, a product that hasn't been WRAS approved can cause serious problems, as significant issues arise when a valve fails to isolate a water supply, or backflow prevention devices malfunction. Even the inappropriate use of certain materials within a product can be enough to contaminate the water for an entire community, by leaching metals, or even causing microbial growth that promotes ill health.
Fortunately, the Water Regulations Advisory Scheme provides an approval logo to products that they have tested and deemed to be suitable in accordable with the current regulations. These guidelines require all fittings to be of an "appropriate quality and standard" when preventing the contamination or waste of water supplies.
So what makes WRAS approval on your plumbing and water-use items so reliable? Products requiring WRAS approval must complete an application process which includes testing for each material in laboratory conditions to ensure suitability for contact with the water supply. Only after thorough testing can a product receive a certification of WRAS approval, and further information can even be found through listings on the WRAS website.
As a responsible care home owner, or manager, the chances are that you thoroughly research each of the products for your residence before making an investment. After all, the comfort and wellbeing of your charges is at stake! Just as you might look for reviews and information on a bariatric commode, the WRAS website allows for a comprehensive insight into each product with approval, so you can make sure you're making the right choice for compliance.
Ensuring complete WRAS compliance means evaluating your plumbing systems, and potentially updating your equipment in certain areas. For example, WRAS guidelines dictate that all plumbing must be properly maintained and installed to ensure safety, protect water quality, provide easy access for maintenance, and defend against freezing or damage. Care home owners and managers would therefore benefit from hiring a WRAS-approved plumber to check over their equipment, and provide maintenance calls on a regular basis.
Once an approved plumber has examined your premises, he or she should also be able to inform you of whether dishwashing and laundry appliances might pose a contamination risk. If a threat is identified, then you must put measures in place for the reduction of backflow into the public water supply. Often, domestic machines aren't enough to suffice in care home environments, because the huge workloads have an impact on a standard machine's ability to offer adequate protection. Fortunately, you may find that upgrading your equipment not only helps you to become WRAS compliant, but also allows you to access more cost-efficient machinery in terms of energy and water consumption.
As a care home owner or manager, it's up to you to make sure that you're not only looking after the vulnerable adults in your premises, but also that you're doing your part to comply with the guidelines for protecting your community. WRAS compliance is an essential concern for all premises - but it has a significant part to play in care homes, where water consumption, waste, and contamination represents a serious matter.
How have you taken steps to make your care home WRAS compliant? Are you going to take additional measures after reading this article? Let us know in the comments below! We would love to hear from you.