Air and water compliance in education

In recent years we have become even more aware of the importance of clean and healthy buildings, perhaps nowhere more than in the field of education. With the health of staff and students in mind, Gary Nicholls, Managing Director of ductwork and Legionella risk experts, Swiftclean, explains the basics of compliance for schools and colleges.

In every school or college there is a duty of care to provide a safe environment, for both staff and students. This means ensuring your compliance in several key areas aimed at ensuring safe and healthy learning environments.

One of best-known areas for compliance is the water system, which must be kept clean and free from water borne pollutants such as Legionella bacteria.  This is particularly essential for anyone with an underlying health condition, making them particularly vulnerable to Legionnaire’s Disease, a debilitating ‘flu-like, potentially fatal, illness caused by Legionella bacteria.

Educational buildings sometimes need to adapt to fluctuating school populations, which can mean adapting or repurposing existing buildings, or adding new ones. This almost invariably means altering the water system, so it is essential to ensure that your Legionella risk assessment is kept up to date. This is a legal requirement under the Approved Code of Practice for the control of Legionella (ACOP L8), issued by the UK’s Health & Safety Executive, as is the appointment of a Responsible Person. Evidence of compliance is also crucial as it protects both the named individuals managing the property and the organisation itself, in the event of a Legionella outbreak.  
The risk assessment must be updated after any significant change, including a change of Responsible Person, and the system itself should always be L8 compliant. Legionella can proliferate in tepid, static water, so if the system is not used for a week or more, the system must be carefully and regularly flushed – especially during the warmer summer holidays. Legionnaire’s Disease is contracted by breathing bacteria contained in minute water droplets, so special care should be taken not to splash when flushing. The summer break is also the ideal time to clean your water tanks, which should be sufficiently screened to prevent solar gain heating water to Legionella-friendly temperatures. When outsourcing, you should use a member of the Legionella Control Association (LCA) to provide Legionella control services.

Another key compliance area for many schools and colleges is the kitchen extract system, where grease deposits collect during cooking to form a serious potential fire hazard. The extract system, including the ductwork, canopy, plenum and fan, must be regularly cleaned in accordance with TR19® Grease, to remove all traces of grease. To form a fire risk, the layer of grease does not have to be very thick; TR19® Grease specifies that the grease layer must be controlled to within an average of 200 microns – about half the thickness of an average business card.

Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, you must appoint a Responsible Person for fire safety purposes. Regular kitchen extract cleaning and compliance will be their responsibility. As with a Legionella outbreak, in the event of a fire, the Responsible Person must be able to demonstrate compliance, or they could be liable to prosecution, especially if there is a serious injury or fatality. Cleaning should be carried out by a contractor on the BESCA Vent Hygiene Register (VHR), formerly the Elite (VHE) Scheme, so you can be issued with post-clean certification of compliance.

Fresh, clean air is essential to maintaining good health, and has also been shown to contribute to a good learning environment, helping to promote alertness and concentration. TR19®, the specification from which TR19® Grease was developed, lays down the intervals at which ventilation systems should be cleaned in order to help maintain good indoor air quality. Ventilation systems should be classified as high, medium or low, according to the usage of the property. In schools and colleges, most areas would be designated as medium, although a university research laboratory or clean room would be designated as high. TR19®has helpful tables which set out the intervals at which ventilation systems should be cleaned to achieve and maintain compliance. In a laboratory, you may have a local exhaust ventilation system, which will also need regular expert cleaning.

Your indoor air quality can be tested, in order to detect any concerning levels of indoor air pollutants such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), dust particles, bacteria, or, in some parts of the UK, problems such as Radon gas. The results from this are usually immediately available, enabling you to take action promptly to address any issues.

As there are quite a few areas in which air and water compliance are mandatory, it is a good idea to appoint a specialist service provider, especially one that can provide compliance through a package of services.