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The National Drought Group (NDG) met on 21 January 2019 chaired by Harvey Bradshaw, Executive Director at the Environment Agency, to assess the water resource situation actions being taken to reduce risk for summer 2019. 

The NDG brings together Government departments, water companies, environmental groups and others. The role is to prepare and mitigate the impacts of dry weather, to co-ordinate action to maintain water supplies, consider water users and protect the environment. 

Current situation and prospects

Wet weather in November and December 2018 ended a six month below average rainfall in England, which brought relief for many parts of England. 

Despite this improvement and improved water resources compared to last year, it has not returned England to its average. 

January 2019 received just 4% of the expected rainfall in the first 15 days of the month, resulting in most river flows being very low for the time of year. There are still several reservoirs below normal in central England.

The Met Office three month outlook shows a slightly higher chance of drier weather during January to March. If this is so, water available for spray irrigation by farmers may be limited during the summer.

If dry weather continues it will potentially have a significant impact on wetlands and the wildlife they support, including returning migratory birds.

The Environment Agency is taking the following action:

  • moving megalitres of water around, with the plan to move a total of 7965 million litres in January;
  • close monitoring to assess the conditions of rivers affected by sustained low flows and prepare for potential environmental incidents;
  • supporting farmers by updating the Environment Agency's position on flexible abstraction for farmers;
  • reviewing guidance for water company drought plans and incorporating lessons learnt over last summer;
  • working flexibly with environmental NGOs and site managers to optimise management of wetland sites to ensure there is enough water on site or providing advice on possible other sources of water. 

The NDG discussed opportunities to work collaboratively on these actions, the possible implications of further dry weather and how issues from EU Exit may impact on water resources for later in the year.

The Water Sector

Extreme weather in 2018 put pressure on the sector to test their resilience and drought plans. Water UK has reported on the actions the water sector has taken to protect water supplies and reduce longer term drought risk. The Environment Agency and Defra welcomed this activity and clarity. 

Most water companies are in a better position than at the start of 2018 but several companies still have reservoirs and/or groundwater below average levels.

The companies reassured the NDG they are taking necessary actions such as changing how they operate their sources of water, spending more on tackling leakage, promoting water efficiency and offering additional services to customers.

Water companies set out specific activities including:

  • Yorkshire Water drought permits to give extra flexibility to ensure the company is prepared for the summer;
  • Severn Trent Water is considering drought permits and have been active with their customer communications;
  • Anglian Water is working with the Environment Agency and the National Farmers Union to identify opportunities to share water in the summer;
  • United Utilities is embedding learning from the dry weather in 2018 into its operations.

Last year the Environment Agency issued six drought permits, reviewing each application to ensure the environment was not put at risk. Defra and the Environment Agency urged water companies to act early in making any future applications as a fair assessment of the water needs of people, industry, and the environment takes time, as well as preparing for EU exit.

Agriculture

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has updated members on the dry start to the year and possible risks for the summer. Their main focus has been the East of England as the region has not shown strong signs of recovery yet. 

The Environment Agency's flexible approach to abstraction for farmers will be updated shortly to include extending the refill season into April for winter storage reservoirs.

Conclusions and next steps

The NDG cautiously welcomed the recovery of water resources in many parts of England but acknowledged the ongoing dry weather may put pressure on farmers and the environment in the spring. 

Water companies were positive that even if the dry weather continues over the coming months, they would not need to introduce any restrictions this summer. Water companies reassured the group that they are not being complacent, they continue to tackle leakage, review their operations and communicate with customers. 

In the short to medium term, farmers and the environment face the biggest risks and those involved need to take action now to prepare for what could be a difficult summer. 

"Through the NDG, members will need to work together to act early and mitigate these risks, the potential challenges from a cold snap and the changes from EU Exit".

For more information, see:

The Government have announced plans for a new UK product safety marking regime in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Although still awaiting Parliamentary approval, draft legislation has been put forward on the proposed new UKCA (UK Conformity Assessed) product safety marking for new UK products placed on the UK market in the event of a no-deal.

This new regime will mirror the existing CE marking in Europe. Currently CE marking is placed on many consumer goods throughout the EU from machinery and electrical equipment to children's toys, and is intended to demonstrate that products are compliant with their relevant essential requirements.

Dependent on the product, the manufacturers themselves may test and issue a Declaration of Conformity for the product which then allows the CE marking to be affixed. For certain, typically higher risk products, like certain types of machinery, a third party assessor is required to carry out tests. These are referred to as Notified Bodies, and they assess whether the product can meet the relevant essential requirements.

As a member of the EU, UK-based Notified Bodies can assess products for the EU market, however if the UK leaves the EU without a deal the EU will no longer recognise UK-based Notified Bodies. Consequently manufacturers who are using UK-based assessors will no longer be able to apply the CE marking.

In response to this the Government intends to reclassify those UK Notified Bodies as UK Approved Bodies. These bodies will then be eligible to assess products against UK requirements for product safety and issue the new UKCA marking for compliant products.

The Government have said that in the event of a no-deal exit the UK will still accept the CE marking on many products for the sale of products on the UK market, however in some cases manufacturers will need to apply the new UKCA marking to products being sold in the UK.

Despite this some have raised concerns over the cost implications the new product safety marking could have.

Chief executive of the manufacturers' organisation EEF, Stephen Phipson, commented: "In a very short period of time, thousands of companies are going to have to spend millions of pounds collectively on changing all their markings to comply with the new mark."

No deal planning guidance issued by the Government also warned that "Products which were assessed by a UK-based notified body will need to be reassessed by an EU-recognised conformity assessment body before placing on the EU market." Which means for some products two sets of tests may have to be carried out at the manufacturers expense.

For information on the subject, see:

A refuse company has been fined £1 million this month after a worker was run over and killed.

Canterbury Crown Court heard how in October 2013 an employee of a waste company, Veolia ES (UK) Limited, suffered fatal injuries after he was run over by a reversing refuse vehicle (RCV), whilst he was walking across the yard at a depot waste transfer station.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that multiple vehicles, including RCVs and articulated lorries, were manoeuvring around the yard with no specific controls.

The company failed to adequately assess the risks involved in the yard and did not implement industry recognised control measures to protect employees.

Veolia ES (UK) Limited was found guilty of breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, fined £1 million and ordered to pay costs of £130,000.

HSE inspector, Kevin Golding commented: "this should be a reminder to all industries, but in particular, the waste industry, to appropriately assess the risks and implement widely recognised control measures to adequately control manoeuvring vehicles, in particular reversing vehicles and restrict pedestrian movements around vehicles".

An Essex-based builder has been sentenced this month after putting three people at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Colchester Magistrates' Court heard that in June 2017 a builder, trading as DEC Roofing & General Building Ltd, was contracted to build a single storey extension to the rear of a house in Corringham. 

When assessing the work, the builder had been told by the homeowner that the boiler flue exited the rear of the property, where the extension was to be built. The builder advised this would not be a problem, and that he would arrange for a plumber to move the flue, so it exited the side of the property.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that DEC Roofing & General Building Ltd failed to ensure the gas boiler flue was moved to a safe place, such as the side of the property, before the extension was built. The gas flue was, therefore, releasing the products of combustion into the finished extension, which the homeowner was alerted to by a carbon monoxide alarm. 

The builder, pleaded guilty to breaching the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations SI 1998/2451. He was sentenced to four months in prison, suspended for 24 months, 30 days rehabilitation and 150 hours of community unpaid work. He will also be paying £3,000 in costs to be paid over the next six months. 

HSE inspector Jessica Churchyard commented that the builder "showed a clear disregard for the law and put his customers' lives at risk, by not arranging for a competent person to move the gas flue to a safe place before the extension was completed".

"Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards".

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) have submitted a proposal to restrict the use of microplastics that are intentionally added to mixtures used by consumers and professionals. It follows the consultation ran in early 2018 which aimed to collect information on such possible restrictions.

ECHA's assessment found that microplastics (or microbeads) are likely to accumulate in terrestrial environments, due to its concentration in sewage sludge, which is often used as fertiliser, as well as entering the water environment directly, due to the small size of the particles which pass through the water treatment system.

It was found that the persistence and the potential for adverse effects of bioaccumulation of microplastics is a cause for concern, where such plastics could last for thousands of years and are almost impossible to remove, once entered the environment.

The proposed restriction targets intentionally added microplastics in products from which they will inevitably be released to the environment. The definition of microplastic is wide, covering small, typically microscopic (less than 5mm), synthetic polymer particles that resist (bio)degradation.

The scope covers a wide range of uses in consumer and professional products in multiple sectors, including cosmetic products, detergents and maintenance products, paints and coatings, construction materials and medicinal products, as well as various products used in agriculture (which was found to be one of the biggest sources of intentionally added microplastics) and horticulture and in the oil and gas sectors.

In early 2018 England, and soon after Wales and Scotland, banned the sale, use and manufacture of rinse-off personal care products that contain microplastics. However, the ban did not cover other sectors.

For more information on this subject, see:

  • Environmental Protection (Microbeads) (England) Regulations SI 2017/1312;
  • Environmental Protection (Microbeads) (Wales) Regulations SI 2018/760; and
  • Environmental Protection (Microbeads) (Scotland) Regulations SSI 2018/162.

A study published by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has warned that box waste collections typically used by Councils for recycling waste could be causing long-term musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) for workers. They urge local authorities who use this type of service for waste collections to discontinue them as a matter of urgency.

The study carried out by the University of Greenwich used body mapping to observe worker's MSDs experiences. Workers identified where they felt pain or discomfort during work activities and recorded the results on a chart or questionnaire. Self-reported pain by waste collection workers was found to be at its highest in both the lower and upper back, shoulders and spine.

Bin waste collection services were found to have fewer MSDs associated with their use than boxes and bag collections.

Dr David Thomas, Academic Portfolio Lead in the School of Design at the University of Greenwich and a Member of IOSH’s Environmental and Waste Management Group Committee, commented: ''The findings of this research present a timely opportunity for organisations to consider how they protect their workforces. Rather than organisations focusing on generic ‘capability’ for a ‘fit youngster’ they need to consider how they accommodate an ever-increasing ageing workforce when developing systems of work. It is also an opportunity for organisations to accept that their current methods of managing work can create ill-health problems and consider ways to make workforces more sustainable in the future including changing systems of work.''

Unison’s Head of Local Government, Jon Richards added: ''Workers in the waste sector are in dangerous, physically demanding and stressful roles. Musculoskeletal disorders are among the many common causes of ill health, along with stress, depression, anxiety and road accidents. We welcome the findings of this report and the steps outlined to reduce the physical impact on workers.''


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