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Only a third of large UK businesses prepared for common water supply issues, research finds (June 2021)

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The UK’s businesses are at risk of interruptions, just as many more start operating again in 2021, according to new YouGov research, commissioned by Water Plus, the UK’s largest business water retailer. 

The findings reveal that overall, more than 20% of UK firms have had a water issue at their site since July 2019, causing interruptions and, in some cases, stopping operations – though only a third (35%) of large firms have measures in place to mitigate a burst pipe in their buildings or other water issues within the boundaries of their site/land.

The research, which surveyed 1,000 UK companies, found that large businesses are at greater risk from having to stop operations because of a problem with their water supply compared with smaller firms. 

Close to one in five (16%) corporates have had to pause daily routines as a result of a costly leak or burst pipe on-site since July 2019. Almost one in ten (8%) had to shut their sites for more than an hour.

In comparison, just 7% of SMEs had to stop operations over the period, the findings show.

Water Plus is providing free advice for businesses to help them be more prepared for water interruptions on-site with the survey’s findings. It’s available at: www.water-plus.co.uk/wateruse

Overall, the YouGov survey found only a fifth (21%) of UK businesses have emergency plans in place, with those operating in construction (17%) and leisure and hospitality (19%) among the least likely. 

Water Plus said that businesses that don’t monitor their water usage regularly are putting themselves at risk and are failing to spot small leaks before they become issues that require a site to be closed. Fewer than half (46%) of large firms track their usage, compared to 33% of SMEs, according to the research.

Scott MacIndeor, Head of Advanced Services at Water Plus, said: “Water supply issues are a major cause of downtime and lost productivity at a time when it’s vital businesses that can be open are operating at full capacity to keep the economy moving.

“It’s clear that there is a blind spot for companies when it comes to being prepared. Not all causes of disruption, from leaks to frozen pipes – during colder months – and water outages, can be spotted beforehand. But having the right emergency plans in place is vital, so firms that are allowed to be open can get back up and running as quickly as possible – and continue operating.

“Part of the problem is that many businesses aren’t aware of the responsibilities they have for the water infrastructure within the boundaries of their property, which can lead to confusion when things go wrong. I’d encourage business leaders and owners to review these and ensure they have the right plans in place to minimise and mitigate the risk of leaks and burst pipes.

“It’s also really important to look at water use and the water meter regularly, at least once a month, if it’s safe to access, particularly if you’ve just got back on-site. Doing this regularly helps to spot any unexpected increases in water use that can indicate a leak that could be underground at a business and not easy to see.” 

It’s important for businesses to have a water emergency plan (contingency plan) in place so they and their employees know what to do if water was to stop at their site and where they’d source additional water if they needed it. If there is an interruption or burst on the wholesaler network, then Category 1 sensitive sites such as hospitals, will be given priority for repairs or emergency water deliveries organised through the wholesaler.

Scott added: “Even though we all know it’s important – and even with the additional cleaning measures and extra handwashing due to Covid-19 – water can be low on risk lists for organisations. It’s worth keeping in mind that just like homeowners, businesses are responsible for the cost of water supplied through the wholesaler network to their site, even if it is lost through a leaking pipe, dripping tap or constantly running urinal. Also, wholesaler charges for water use are in place, whether businesses are open or closed.” 

*with upwards of 250 employees

The impact of leaks on-site for businesses are illustrated below and further details on steps and savings available from looking at water can be found at www.water-plus.co.uk/sustainability .

  • In the last nine months, a High School had a leak in a plant room at their site. The leak, caused by a copper pipe that had corroded, was losing an estimated 12,000 litres (12 cubic metres) an hour, at an estimated cost of £850 a day – so needed quick action. The leak was causing some flooding in the plant room. Water Plus provided a quote for its repair experts to attend and complete work on-site so the leak could be fixed the following day.
  • A business was alerted in October 2020 to an ongoing constant leak at its main offices after arranging the installation of an Automatic Meter Reader (AMR) data logger on its water meter. The leak at the site was wasting around 650 litres an hour – at a cost of £50 a day and wouldn’t have been seen on a water bill as it would have been part of the overall consumption. Although small, the leak, which has been repaired by the business, would have cost nearly £20,000 in a year, as well as cause damage.
  • Last year (2020), a packaging company saw a major access road starting to sink due to an underground leak, impacting their operations. Water Plus Advanced Services were called on by the firm and the water retailer’s team identified the leak and repaired it.  
  • If a business site is closed due to restrictions around Covid-19, then this can also provide an opportunity to spot water issues as water consumption should decrease.
  • During January 2021’s national lockdown, a gym chain had five sites losing more than 1,000 litres an hour – with a total of 9,800 litres an hour across those sites. This would cost around £700 a day for the supply of that water – around £248,000 if they ran for a year.
  • A gym chain was also alerted to leaks at 14 sites after water use continued in March 2020 when the buildings were closed due to the first national lockdown. Automatic Meter Reader (AMR) data loggers, on their water meters, measured the water loss as 13.35 cubic metres an hour (13,000 litres of water) across the 14 sites – at a cost of around £960 a day. If these were not repaired, it could have cost the business around £350,000 over a year – for 320,000 litres a day (320 cubic metres).

Further information

About the survey

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,099 Senior Decision Makers. Fieldwork was undertaken between 27th October – 2nd November 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of British business size.