Building customer confidence in commercial water softening with WRAS



While WRAS is not the only accreditation system, Culligan UK would like to see WRAS Approved Products become the industry standard. John Kyle, Culligan UK’s Managing Director, discusses Culligan’s experience attaining the first WRAS approved commercial and industrial water softener and the importance of meeting the standard.

Safe drinking water is one of the major pre-requisites for a healthy life. In the UK, mains water is treated in a series of processes including coagulation, flocculation, filtration and oxidation. These processes remove chemical contamination and kill pathogens before the water reaches your premises. Not surprisingly, protecting this safe water supply is taken very seriously by government and the water companies. There are regulations, and hence legal consequences, associated with contaminating mains water supply. Stringent testing procedures ensure that water quality is being maintained.

Protecting mains water quality

Once a public mains water supply reaches and enters your premises, whether a commercial or industrial unit, any fittings made to the public water supply is outside a water company’s direct control. However, they have a responsibility to ensure fittings are installed to the correct standard and are of good quality. Water companies are required to risk assess water supplies from source to tap and have powers as the enforcers of the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999 to ensure problems that risk contamination are rectified. The regulations require water supply arrangements in buildings to meet standards that protect water quality. In turn, water companies can be subject to enforcement action by the Drinking Water Inspectorate if they fail to use their powers.

A well-publicised demonstration of water companies’ commitment to enforcing these regulations is reported in the Yorkshire Post. Yorkshire Water prosecuted a Chicken processing factory in Thorne when contamination prohibited thousands of local residents from drinking their tap water. At the time, Yorkshire Water Spokesperson, Paul Carter said: “We saw from the incident in Thorne the massive disruption that contamination of a water supply can cause for people. We hope that this prosecution will act as a warning and ensure that all businesses take the steps required by law to notify Yorkshire Water of any proposed alterations of their water systems and to prevent the risk of contamination when installing new plumbing systems in future.”

The Drinking Water Inspectorate also illustrate in one of their case studies how a bread company contravened the Water Supply Regulations with disastrous consequences for their business. Their public water supply was disconnected when they failed to install simple measures to prevent untreated borehole water entering the public supply. Instead they began abstracting water without a licence from a borehole that was contaminated. Testing found the water being used to make bread was high in solvents. They were forced to withdraw products from the shelves amounting to direct costs of over £1 million to the business.

Contamination of mains water supply in a commercial and industrial environment can be caused by backflow. This can cause water that is not fit for consumption, sanitation or food preparation to mix with the mains water supply. In a water softener, resins in the system are rejuvenated regularly with a brine solution. Without high quality manufacturing there is a chance that this brine wash could create the pressures required for contamination to be possible in the event of low quality valve failure.

WRAS approval is gaining traction

There are a number of certifications that provide confidence in the quality of the equipment being fitted. For commercial and industrial water treatment the Water Regulations Advisory Scheme (WRAS) has been growing in stature and significance.  WRAS has 26 UK water suppliers subscribing to their services and work to represent the UK water supply industry in relation to the water fittings regulations specifically. Their personnel have Water Research Centre (WRc) pedigree and their approval regime for products and materials is robust.

“I believe Culligan UK, as a leading water treatment specialist, needs to make it easy for our clients to prove they are selecting equipment responsibly and to provide water companies with assurances that the mains water supply will not be contaminated. While WRAS is not the only approval system available, we see it as the most recognisable and certainly one that the water companies support. Our experience is that it is a robust certification and we hope WRAS continues to grow to be accepted as the industry standard. We are proud to be the first to manufacture a WRAS approved water softener and hope many other companies will follow our lead, submitting their products for approval,” says John Kyle, Culligan UK’s Managing Director.

WRAS’ product and materials approval scheme has been gathering significant traction. WRAS approval demonstrates compliance with the Water Supply Regulations and certifies products and materials ‘to not cause waste, misuse, undue consumption, or contamination of the water supply and be of appropriate quality and standard’. Initial uptake was from domestic equipment manufacturers. In 2016 they approved 1,633 products and 544 materials. Today, forward thinking commercial and industrial water treatment product manufacturers are recognising how independent certification can provide their clients with increased confidence in both the quality and functionality of their products.

“There are a number of ways a commercial or industrial client can verify that the technology being used to treat their mains water will meet regulatory requirements. I believe that independent accreditation that has strong recognition in the sector delivers customer confidence. It’s important that our clients can satisfy the water companies that an appropriate water treatment product can be fitted to the public mains and a ‘WRAS Approved Product’ provides that un-ambiguously. It demonstrates our product meets legal requirements while providing first class water treatment,” explains John.

Investing in approval

Entry onto the ‘WRAS Approved Product Directory’ is neither a rapid nor inexpensive process. Culligan UK’s recent approval for their water softeners is testimony to a thorough WRAS approval process.  “We recognised that gaining ‘WRAS Approved Product’ status for many of our products required both investment and time. Our water softeners have taken over 20 months to gain approval. Each product submitted needs to be independently tested and results assessed by the ‘WRAS Product Assessment Group (PAG)’ made up of industry experts. WRAS liaise with your nominated testing laboratory regarding any queries relating to meeting their standards. It’s good to know that testing is thorough and robust as they are issuing a certification for 5 years,” says John.

“In most commercial buildings from offices to hotels, schools and even pubs, water is sourced from the public mains supply. Water softening helps organisations save money in hard water areas and with the UK’s first WRAS approved commercial and industrial water softener they can have peace of mind that they are complying with legislation. The approval not only covers the quality of the softener, but certifies it will not contaminate the mains water supply,” he reveals.

WRAS approved products can bear a ‘WRAS Approved Product’ logo, the product manufacturer holds a certificate of approval and confirmation of product approval can be found easily on the ‘WRAS Product and Materials Directory’ on their website.