What is a Business’s Responsibility for Drains?
Most businesses are aware of their environmental responsibilities, including sustainable sourcing and carbon footprint reduction, as well as keeping up with the latest regulations and guidelines.
As part of this effort, the proper management of drainage and wastewater is a key consideration in minimising environmental impact, yet it gets overlooked: a classic case of out of sight and out of mind.
Yet the risks of getting it wrong should not be taken lightly: poor housekeeping and maintenance can result in serious flooding and/or pollution incidents, with the inevitable legal and financial penalties that follow. So, it is vital that commercial users understand their legal and ethical responsibilities when it comes to managing drains and sewer assets, and ensure they take all the necessary steps to stay ahead of any problems.
Who is responsible for drainage?
One of the most common problems facing business owners is that responsibility for responding to drainage and wastewater issues will vary depending where the problem arises.
That means it is important commercial operators are aware where their drainage liability begins and ends:
- 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 to do if there is a blockage?
If your business has a drainage-related problem, the first priority is to locate the source of the issue and determine whether the blockage or leak falls under your jurisdiction. If this is not clear, it is worth contacting your water and sewerage company or the local environmental health department to help you identify where the problem is located.
The responsible party will need to take action as follows:
- 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 from pipes owned by the local water and sewerage company will be dealt with by them. Get in touch as soon as possible to report the issue, which should be fixed free of charge.
- Blockages and smells arising from road gullies and properties maintained by the local council, should be reported appropriately.
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: failure to do so can result in key facilities breaking down, flooding, pollution incidents or sewage spills. Not only can damage be expensive to repair, it could disrupt your own operation, ultimately affecting your bottomline.
There is a risk too, that you could accrue regulatory penalties if authorities consider that you are not following established guidelines for wastewater disposal. When discharging trade effluent into a public sewer, for example, the Water Industry Act of 1991 dictates that a licence is required. Be aware that water and sewerage companies and environmental authorities will take action when wrongdoing is identified.
In Staffordshire, one company was charged £33,000 for polluting a watercourse with clay 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.
Top maintenance tips for businesses
Fortunately, keeping on top of wastewater disposal responsibilities and preventing drainage issues from getting out of hand is not difficult. Just consider the following basic guidelines:
- Ensure everyone in your company knows what not to dispose of down the drain: wipes, sanitary products, fat, oil and grease (FOG) are known to be a leading cause of blocked drains.
- Be prepared for extreme weather by making sure your drains are able to operate at full capacity. This is particularly important seasonally and may go a long way to protecting your business from flooding.
- Arrange a CCTV survey of your drains to identify any defects or blockages before they become a problem, and have pipes cleaned out regularly. Your contractor will advise on frequency depending on the result 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 a 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.
- Provide suitable disposal units for sanitary waste.