Drinking water Management Current Issues Update 7 – Boil water notices

March 2017

One of the quick wins that has come out of the Government Inquiry into Havelock North Drinking Water evidence, is the need for planning around boil water notices. It was identified by the Hawkes Bay District Health Board, the Drinking Water Assessors and Hastings District Council that better planning and preparedness around boil water notices would have saved time in notifying residents of the need to boil water.

One of the roles confirmed by the Inquiry is that it is the water suppliers which are the agency responsible for issuing a boil water notice. Drinking water assessors and the Medical Officer of Health can recommend a boil water notice be issued, and in many cases would provide input into water utilities making the decision to issue a boil water notice. There are also situations where the need to issue a boil water notice is an obvious conclusion and the water utility can act promptly and hopefully mitigate any illness from occurring in the community, i.e. a broken drinking water main where waste water is known to have entered.

If a health emergency is declared then the Medical Officer of Health powers escalate beyond providing recommendations to water utilities, to instructing water utilities to carry out actions.

The trigger for a water utility to issue a boil water notice should be identified in the Water Safety Plan or a document the WSP refers to. A significant part of a boil water notice plan is the communication methods used to notify the consumers.

Not only is there a need for having a prepared boil water notice, there also exists the need for:

  • a “Do Not Drink” notice typically used for chemical contamination
  • a “Do Not Use” notice, these are rare and would be used where a contamination could be dangerous if water contacts skin, lungs or eyes.
  • Where to find more detailed advice and FAQ on things such as washing teeth, coffee machines, ice and dishwashing can also be prepared in advance of a contamination event.

There were a number of recommendations and thoughts that have come from the Inquiry and its’ line of questioning:

  • Recommended best practice is to provide bottled water to the elderly as it is considered a health hazard for them to lift large pots of hot water.
  • Use the council health protection officers to contact food outlets (24/7) – the same people who issue the hygiene certificates.
  • Find the aged health care contacts before hand – they are the best people to contact the elderly - which social media probably won’t get to.
  • Include boarding schools when hotels are contacted.
  • Schools have limited ability to wash hands before eating; therefore the risk of secondary contamination is higher. Unless an emergency situation is declared it’s the schools board of trustees who make the call to close the school, hence time needs to be allowed to update them on the facts so they can make a call. Use the Ministry of Education to get hold of the school board of trustee’s contacts; the same Ministry of Health contact goes for early child care facilities as well.
  • Record multi agency meeting actions, especially delegated tasks i.e. who is contacting rest homes.
  • Use all communication sources available. It was recognised that mail drops are not likely to be useful initially but would likely play a part in updating as the situation progresses and the boil water notice is removed.
  • Contact Dialysis patients directly.
  • Create a phone tree contact list. Consider other ethnic communities where English isn’t their first language.
  • Black pages – this where prepared hidden web pages are created on a Water Utilities web site and the relevant page is quickly enabled when required.

A pre mortem is lot easier and less stress to carry out than a post mortem!

Attached is the American Drinking Water Advisory toolbox provided via Peter Wood - Central North Island Drinking Water Assessor Technical Manager, it is a great document for getting the jump boil water notice preparation.

Noel Roberts
Technical Manager
Water NZ

drinking-water-advisory-communication-toolbox (2).pdf

4 MB
08 Mar 2017