What is a Business’s Responsibility for Drains?
Most businesses are aware of their environmental responsibilities, including responsible sourcing and carbon footprint reduction efforts, as well as keeping up with the latest sustainability regulations and guidelines.
The proper management of drainage and wastewater should also be seen as a key consideration in minimising an organisation’s environmental impact, yet it is an issue that often gets overlooked. Is this out of sight and out of mind?
The potential risks of getting this wrong are far from insignificant – not taking such issues into account may lead to flooding or pollution incidents, with the inevitable legal and financial penalties that follow. It is therefore vital that commercial users understand their legal and ethical responsibilities when it comes to handling drainage and sewer problems, and to make sure they are taking all the necessary steps to stay on top of the matter.
Who is responsible for drainage problems?
One of the most common problems that business owners face when determining how to respond to drainage and wastewater issues is the fact that responsibility for fixing leaks and blockages varies, depending on where the problem arises.
As such, it’s vital that commercial operators are aware of which parts of the drainage system they’re liable for:
- The business/property owner is responsible for all pipes, gutters and drains in and around the building, including the drains leading up to the boundary at the property’s edge. If you have a blockage, flooding or structural defect there, it’s up to your organisation to put it right.
- The local water and sewerage company is responsible for public sewers carrying sewage and stormwater from your property’s boundary to the local wastewater treatment works. Shared drains where several properties’ drains meet before joining the public sewer are also their responsibility to maintain. See here the private sewers transfer regulations.
- The local council is responsible for road drainage and roadside gullies used to drain surface water from the highway, as well as council-managed properties.
What should be done in case of a blockage?
If your business has been struggling with some kind of drainage-related problem, the first priority should therefore be to locate the source of the issue and determine whether the blockage or leak in question falls under your jurisdiction. If this isn’t clear, it may be worth contacting the water and sewerage company, or the local council’s environmental health department, to help you identify where the problem is located.
Once responsibility for the problem has been narrowed down, the party in question will need to take action:
- Blockages that are the responsibility of the business/property owner need to be dealt with privately. This is likely to mean getting in touch with a reputable drainage contractor such as Lanes for Drains, with the costs covered by the business itself or its insurers.
- Problems arising with pipes owned by the local water and sewerage company need to be dealt with by them. Get in touch with them as soon as possible to report the issue, as this will allow them to fix it with no extra cost to your company.
- For blockages and smells arising from nearby road gullies and other properties maintained by the local council, contact them directly to carry out the necessary repairs.
The importance of dealing with drainage issues the right way
Efficient handling of problems with pipes and drains should be considered a top priority for any business, as a failure to do so can result in key facilities breaking down, or can even lead to a flooding, pollution incident and / or sewage spills. Not only will it cost considerable amounts of money to fix the damage, but it could also disrupt the delivery of your own services, resulting in a severe financial hit to your bottom line.
This risk is compounded by the regulatory penalties that your business could accrue if authorities find out that you’re not following the established guidelines for wastewater disposal. For example, when discharging trade effluent into a public sewer, the Water Industry Act of 1991 dictates that a licence is required to do so, and water and sewerage companies – along with environmental authorities – will not shy away from taking action when wrongdoing is identified.
In Staffordshire, a company had to pay more than £33,000 for polluting a brook with clay material after exceeding its discharge consent limit, while a food manufacturer in Worcestershire was fined £12,000 for making illegal discharges into Severn Trent Water’s sewer network, and ordered to pay costs of over £30,000. In just one six-month period, the same authority brought successful prosecutions against seven different firms in the Midlands for illegal discharges into the sewer network.
Moreover, the Environment Agency has its own rules about corporate pollution that businesses could fall foul of by failing to properly manage their drainage system. You can learn more about how these incidents can lead to prosecutions here.
Top maintenance tips for businesses
Fortunately, it’s not too difficult for a conscientious organisation to keep on top of their wastewater disposal responsibilities and prevent any issues with their drainage system from getting out of hand. Just make sure that your business is taking these tips into consideration:
- Ensure everyone within your company understands the right way to dispose of fat, oil and grease and avoids tipping these substances into the drain, as they are known to be a leading cause of blocked drains.
- Prepare for extreme weather by making sure your drains are fully functional and able to operate at full capacity during periods when conditions are milder. This is particularly important ahead of winter or periods of forecast rain, and can go a long way to protecting your business from potential flooding.
- Arrange a CCTV survey of your drains to highlight any potential defects or blockages before they become a problem, and have the pipes cleaned out regularly based on the findings of these inspections.
- Consider switching your water and sewerage service supplier. From April 2017, the new Water Act has meant that all commercial, public sector and not-for-profit organisations in England can now choose their water and sewerage provider and negotiate a package that suits their particular needs, whether that be for more efficient customer service, tailored packages, more proactive advice services or different pricing approaches.
- Provide suitable disposal units for sanitary waste.