Water Coolers in Healthcare Environments

by Water Hygiene Centre, on 12-07-2018
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water coolers in healthcare

If you believe the rumours, summer is just around the corner, which hopefully means we can get out and about as we used to. It also sees a rise in temperatures and in some cases uncomforatble working conditions. During these hot spells it is more important than ever to help keep people hydrated.

Hot weather often prompts requests for additional drinking water facilities to help staff, patients and visitors remain hydrated. However, water coolers and other point-of-use drinking water outlets can cause problems and some essential precautions are required.

This blog focuses on mains-fed water coolers, as bottle-fed systems are not generally recommended in healthcare environments.


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Is there a problem?

Point-of-use water coolers and other drinks dispensers are a ‘nice to have’ item that may improve the environment for building users however, there are potential drawbacks associated with water-hygiene and infection control. In many cases the provision may not be necessary as kitchens tend to have a mains cold water tap.

What are some of the problems with water coolers…

  • Resource Implications - They are not ‘fit and forget’ items! In addition to the initial purchase cost, they need daily cleaning, emptying of drip trays etc., regular servicing and replacement and disposal of consumables.
  • Infection Risk - Some areas are not suitable for water coolers due to the risk of cross-contamination (e.g. laboratories and toilets) and increased risk of infections (e.g. neonatal and intensive care units). Infection Control teams should be consulted prior to procurement.
  • Poor Water Quality - Firstly, consideration of the provision of a suitable water supply and drainage arrangements. Secondly, units should be sited where they are likely to receive frequent use ensuring a regular flow of water through the device and associated pipework. Infrequent use is a common cause of unsatisfactory water quality. 

How best to manage?

  • Policy – Determine what the organisational policy is for water coolers. This should include the standards that will be applied, procurement arrangements, the approval process, who will be responsible for the finance and upkeep of the units, records to be kept etc. The aim should be for installations to be permitted or rejected on the basis of a risk assessment completed by a competent person/s [usually the members of the Water Safety Group [WSG]]*. The principle of ALARP [as low as reasonably practical] should be applied.

  • Procurement – establish robust controls to ensure that unauthorised drinking water facilities cannot be purchased or rented without the approval of the WSG. Working with procurement teams to ensure their understanding of the process and the associated risks

  •  Application Process – consider developing an application process with defined approval criteria so that when a request for a device is received it can be dealt with in a systematic fashion [this does not eliminate the need for a risk assessment but it could speed up the process]. Criteria could include:

    • Is there a suitable source of water to supply the equipment within 3-metres of the proposed site and upstream of frequently used outlets?
    • Has the person responsible for the daily cleaning of the device been identified and appropriately briefed about their responsibilities?
    • Have the people / resources who will undertake the daily hygiene regime been identified, trained and are they deemed competent?
    • Has the finance for the purchase of the unit and the ongoing service contract been agreed (i.e. who’s going to pay)?

When it comes to the risk assessment of each proposed installation then a site survey will be required (see below). Risk assessments should consider:

  • The susceptibility/vulnerability to infection of all who may be exposed to the water (including ice);
  • Quality of the incoming water supply;
  • Frequency of use (E.g. will it be sufficient to avoid any deterioration in water quality as a result of excessive water age).
  • Carbon filtration in these devices which are a high nutrient source for bacteria;
  • Ease of cleaning / sanitisation & maintenance of the device. 

Thinking about the installation, a detailed site survey should be carried out in advance of each installation to establish the precise location and practical requirements [this survey will also help inform the risk assessment]. The survey will:

  • Confirm the availability of a suitable water source, electrical supply and drainage arrangements;
  • Establish the suitability of the installation in respect to other health and safety considerations;
  • Check for factors that may affect water quality, such as localised heat sources.

Once an application has been agreed always ensure that water coolers and other point of use devices are installed following these general guidelines:

  • The unit must be connected within 3-metres of an existing drinking water supply and upstream of a frequently used outlet.
  • Installers should be suitably qualified and always work under the supervision of the Trust’s Authorised Person [Water] who will ensure that the requirements of the Trust’s Water Safety Plan, risk assessment and any further instructions from the WSG are implemented;
  • All materials and fittings used must be WRAS approved. 

If you would like more information on the approval, installation and ongoing maintenance requirements of water coolers please leave a comment below or contact us.

Stay safe, hydrated and enjoy the summer!

* Not sure what a Water Safety Group does? Don’t know your WSP from your TMV? Then check out our other helpful and informative blogs here.

Editors Note: The information provided in this blog is correct at date of original publication - April 2018. 

© Water Hygiene Centre 2019


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About the author

Water Hygiene Centre

The Water Hygiene Centre was established in 2009 to address the lack of independent water hygiene consultancy within the industry. From our humble beginnings, we have established ourselves as a market leader, helping clients identify and minimise the risk of waterborne contamination and disease, whilst improving compliance performance.

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