NFGWS advice to group water schemes in light of the continuing spread of COVID-19 coronavirus
NFGWS General Advice Note No. 2 – For GWS Boards and Management during the COVID-19 outbreak, click on the link below to see full PDF:
This purpose of this advice note is to:
- Provide guidance on contingency planning for GWSs to ensure the continuity of supply and prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus through community transmission,
- Highlight that traditional water treatment methods which utilise filtration and disinfection should inactivate COVID-19 virus.
As the number of reported cases of the Coronavirus COVID-19 increases throughout the island of Ireland, Group Water Scheme boards and staff need to make sure that their scheme is properly prepared, that people working on behalf of a scheme are protected, and that necessary precautions are taken to prevent further spread of the virus. This basic guidance note for GWS boards and management aims to help prepare for the management of a scheme in the event of the continued spread of the virus. The note focuses on preventing community transmission, contingency planning for GWS management and protecting your water supply.
Preventing Community Transmission
People working on GWSs are active within rural communities and can have dealings with many people on a daily basis. To prevent further spread of the virus through community transmission, frequent and proper hand hygiene must be adhered to. Regular washing of hands with soap and water is one of the most important prevention measures for COVID-19. GWSs should ensure that more frequent and regular hand hygiene is observed and that hand sanitiser/hand washing facilities are made available to those working on behalf of the scheme. When washing hands, you should adhere to the HSE guidance:
GWSs carry out operational monitoring regularly as part of Quality Assurance System implementation. This requires chlorine residual testing to be completed at consumers’ taps at various locations on a scheme. In light of the spread of Covid-19, group water schemes are encouraged to continue undertaking operational monitoring to verify the efficiency of disinfection systems, but with samples taken from the distribution main, where possible. Entering the homes of consumers should be kept to a minimum.
All non-essential public meetings should be put on hold. Many GWSs normally hold Annual General Meetings at this time of the year. While schemes may, at present, hold such events, it is important that the government’s advice note on mass gatherings is consulted when making a decision about whether or not to proceed. This advice note is at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/472f64-covid-19-coronavirus-guidance-and-advice/#mass-gathering-guidelines. As this Advice Note is likely to be updated regularly over the coming weeks, GWSs should update themselves before organising any meeting/event.
Contingency Planning for GWSs
Every scheme should have a plan in place to deal with emergencies as part of its Quality Assurance System. While emergency planning to date has largely focused on dealing with potential water quality incidents, emergency plans should also address the issue of personnel back-up (i.e having a person/people available to take the place of those who have been infected and/or are unable to fulfil their duties). In some instances, GWSs may have become reliant on one or two individuals to carry out all of the operational functions on their scheme. These people have considerable local knowledge and operational expertise, including the management of assets such as valves and fittings. GWSs should document this information in so far as possible and familiarise themselves with the Standard Operating Procedures outlined in the NFGWS Quality Assurance System. In the event of further spread of COVID-19, schemes will need to be prepared for situations where GWS staff members or volunteers may no longer be able to perform their duties. Contingency plans should be put in place now rather than reacting to issues as they arise over the coming weeks. Each scheme should ask themselves the following questions:
- If the person responsible for operating and managing our scheme (operator, manger,
caretaker, volunteer) fell ill suddenly, how would we continue to supply potable drinking
water to our members?
- Have we discussed contingency planning with our contractors?
- Have we discussed contingency planning with our suppliers (particularly chemical
The NFGWS is recommending that every scheme completes the following over the coming days, if it has not done so already:
1. Hold a contingency planning meeting of the GWS Board/committee to
a. consider the questions raised above.
b. ensure that all GWS staff and board members are aware of the possible implications of the current outbreak for the group water scheme and that they have available to them the most up-to-date information and advice on containing the spread of the virus.
c. discuss contingency planning, with a view to ensuring continuity of supply to GWS members over the coming period.
2. GWS in Design Build and Operate contracts:
a. Speak to your Employer’s Representative / DBO Operator in relation to their planning to ensure continuity of operations during the ongoing outbreak. (The NFGWS is making contact with all DBO operators in relation to same and will circulate any relevant information to schemes).
3. GWSs not in a Design Build and Operate contract:
a. Ensure arrangements are in place with private service providers/contractors should their services be required at short notice.
b. At least two other individuals should be trained and briefed on treatment plant operations including Health and Safety requirements.
4. All GWSs (including publicly sourced GWS):
a. Where possible GWSs should speak to neighbouring schemes about the possibility of working together to ensure continuity of supply and QA implementation and sharing resources such as expertise and staff if necessary. Amalgamation and rationalisation cluster groups have been established in a number of counties and these groups could facilitate such a process.
b. For operating and managing GWS networks, make sure that emergency contact details (e.g. contractors, LA, HSE) are documented and made available to all GWS officers and staff.
c. Have at least three GWS representatives trained and briefed on how to implement the schemes Quality Assurance System from source to tap, including operational monitoring roles.
GWSs are advised to document any contingency plan and update previous plans as necessary. NFGWS Development Officers are available to assist and advise GWSs on the above and training continues to be available now through the NFGWS (https://nfgws.ie/training-water-awareness/) and the Local Authorities Services National Training Group (https://www.lasntg.ie/).
Protecting water supplies The presence of the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking-water supplies to date and based on current evidence, the risk to water supplies is estimated to be low according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Traditional water treatment methods which utilise filtration and disinfection should inactivate COVID-19 virus. It has been shown to be sensitive to chlorination and UV disinfection. It is, therefore, extremely important that hygiene standards are strictly observed and that disinfection systems are operated and maintained correctly. As always, the distribution network should be cleaned/scoured and a chlorine residual maintained at the consumer’s tap.
All schemes have now completed Quality Assurance training and are widely implementing the system across the sector. The fundamental objective of the NFGWS Quality Assurance System is to ensure that water provided is compliant with the drinking water standards. As part of the recommended multi-barrier approach to protecting water from catchment to consumer, proper management of disinfection system is of paramount importance.
Many co-benefits will be realised by safely managing water and sanitation services and applying good hygiene practices. Such efforts will prevent many other infectious diseases, which cause millions of deaths each year.
Stay Up to date with Developments
The latest government advice on the Coronavirus Covid-19 can be viewed at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/472f64-covid-19-coronavirus-guidance-and-advice/. This is regularly updated.
The first is a short Technical Brief summarizing WHO guidance on water, sanitation which is relevant for viruses (including coronaviruses). This Technical Brief is written in particular for water and sanitation practitioners and providers. It is available at the link under:
The second is an advice note by the HSE on COVID-19 in chlorinated drinking water supplies. It is available at the link under:
On broader COVID-19 information there are dedicated pages on the HSE, Department of Health and Health Protection Surveillance Centre websites, these are updated twice daily, providing a trusted source of information to the public.
Health Service Executive (HSE): www.hse.ie
Department of Health: https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/c36c85-covid-19-coronavirus/
Health Protection Surveillance Centre: www.hpsc.ie
National Federation of Group Water Schemes
24 Old Cross Square, Monaghan H18 NX30
Tel: 047 72766 Fax: 047 72788 Website: www.nfgws.ie
15th May 2020
NFGWS Covid-19 Advice Note 4
The purpose of this advice note is to make group water schemes aware of the Government’s most recent publications in relation to COVID-19 and their implications for employers and workers. It also aims to provide information on other relevant GWS updates.
Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business
- On the 1st of May, the Government published its ‘Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business’, setting out a detailed phased plan on how the COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted. All group water schemes (GWSs) have continued to operate as an essential service during the restricted period, with only essential or emergency works being completed. Many schemes have used this as an opportunity to focus on the planning phases for capital projects, engaging with consultants or tendering to ensure, in so far as is possible, that projects are ‘shovel ready’ once restrictions are eased. While it is subject to change depending on emerging public health advice, the published roadmap allows construction works to commence under strict conditions from the 18th of May. It also and sets out Ireland’s plan for further lifting COVID-19 restrictions over 5 distinct phases. The key dates listed for these phases are as follows:
-Phase 1 – 18th of May
-Phase 2 – 8th of June
-Phase 3 – 29th of June
-Phase 4 – 20th of July
-Phase 5 – 10th of August
Based on the Public Health Framework Approach to advising Government on measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the roadmap sets out a phased plan for lifting covid-19 restrictions in the following areas:
–Community Health Measures
-Education & Childcare Measures
-Health & Social Care Services Measures
–Economic Activity (Work)
-Retail, Personal Services and Commercial Activities
-Cultural & Social Measures
-Transport & Travel Measures
Note: Those highlighted in bold are of particular relevance to GWSs.
Every GWS is encouraged to read the full text of the document which is available to downloaded from the NFGWS website
Return to Work Safely Protocol
On the 8th of May, the Government published ‘Return to Work Safely Protocol’, which is the COVID-19 Specific National Protocol for employers and workers in Ireland. The GWS sector continues to be recognised as an essential service provider and many schemes have already implemented specific measures and contingency arrangements to protect workers and volunteers. However, it is important that each scheme now reviews its existing measures to ensure that they are in line with this protocol.
The protocol sets out the need for employers to ensure strong communication, a shared collaborative approach and regular engagement with workers in all matters relating to COVID-19 and the preventative measures being implemented.
Many schemes have only small numbers of full-time or part-time employees, with others reliant on volunteers to carry out specific duties. This guidance document aims to highlight a number of specific areas that must be implemented by schemes in both scenarios.
-at least one employee/GWS representative should be appointed to ensure that COVID-19 measures are
strictly adhered to on the scheme.
-To be effective, the person(s) undertaking this role must receive the necessary training and have a
structured framework to follow within the organisation. Online training supports are available to assist
- The LASNTG – https://www.lasntg.ie/. The LASNTG has developed induction training courses for those returning to work and including operators and contractors.
- ICOS Skillnet – https://icosskillnet.ie/ – also has a range of online courses available, including COVID-19 related courses.
Key tasks that all employers must complete to effectively implement the protocol include:
• developing and/or updating the COVID-19 mitigation plans to take account of the protocol.
• developing or amending policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation of workers who may have symptoms of COVID-19, as appropriate.
• developing, consulting, communicating and implementing workplace changes or policies.
• Implementing the COVID-19 prevention and control measures to minimise risk to workers.
Within the key areas and where applicable, employers are obliged to provide COVID-19 induction training and update safety plans to include measures relevant to COVID-19 (e.g. social distancing, the provision of hand sanitisers, tissues and clinical waste bags, clear procedures around handwashing and respiratory etiquette, and ensuring proper ventilation).
Employers must also keep a log of those working in groups to facilitate contact tracing should a worker become infected. Employers must also have a response plan in place, detailing how they will deal with a suspected case of COVID-19 in the workplace. If a worker displays any symptoms of the virus during working hours, specific actions need to be implemented by the employer to prevent the further spread of the virus and the health and safety of the worker and others. A full risk assessment of any incidents must be completed to ascertain if any further action needs to be taken.
Every scheme is encouraged to read the full document available at: https://nfgws.ie/wpcontent/uploads/2020/03/Return-to-Work-Safely-Protocol.pdf.
Other Relevant GWS Updates/Advice
As it is still not possible to hold public meetings, planned AGMs, SGMs and public information meeting must remain on hold for now. Earliest indications from the documentation as published indicate that public gatherings will only be permitted in the latter phases of the roadmap and will be subject to strict social distancing and other conditions. There are no specific details at this time.
Board Meetings/Committee meetings
GWSs are encouraged to use one of the many online platforms now available for video conferencing to facilitate board meetings. Your local development officer is available to assist your scheme with this process.
The deadline for filing annual returns to the Register of Friendly Societies or the Companies Registration Office has been extended to the 30th June. In the meantime, GWSs are encouraged to prepare annual returns as normal and to have them approved by the GWS board.
Operational Subsidy Claims
Operational subsidy claims should be made to your Local Authority in the normal way. GWSs are encouraged to make their applications before the deadline of the 30th of June. It is accepted that it may not be possible for schemes to meet the requirement of conditions relating to approval of annual audited returns by members at the AGM and the inclusion of these returns as supporting documentation. Nonetheless, GWSs are encouraged to make their claims now, (to include audited accounts where relevant, available and approved by the scheme Board/Committee) referencing that any outstanding information will be provided as soon as possible once restrictions are lifted.
Capital works can and should be progressed from the 18th of May, in accordance with the conditions outlined in the above roadmap and protocols. GWSs should ensure that contractors and workers adhere to the necessary conditions when carrying out such works. Given the unavoidable delays to capital works under the Multi-annual Rural Water Programme due to Covid-19, GWSs are encouraged to make every effort to progress approved works over the coming weeks and months, where it is safe to do so.
Further Information Sources
Up-to-date information on COVID-19 continues to be available from:
-Latest Government Advice – https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/c36c85-covid-19-coronavirus/
-Latest HSE Advice – https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/news/newsfeatures/covid19-updates/
-NFGWS COVID-19 Advice – https://nfgws.ie/nfgws-advice-on-continuing-spread-of-covid-19/