Water coolers are potential health risk

In the industrialised west we take clean, safe water for granted but many of us could have a contaminated supply lurking in our place of work.

According to research from watchdog Consumer Focus Scotland, as many as one in four water coolers could be a haven for harmful bacteria.

The group is now calling for a review of laws covering water coolers after 26% of those tested on its behalf failed to meet safety and hygiene standards.

Samples were taken from offices, schools, leisure centres and care homes in Edinburgh, the Lothians and Borders.

While all the water passed tests for chemical contamination, a surprising number were found to contain unsafe levels of harmful bacteria.

40% of Bottle-fed coolers were failed checks by health and safety officers while plumbed-in water coolers were less likely to be contaminated, with one in six not meeting standards.

Mary Lawton, food policy specialist for Consumer Focus Scotland said: “While the types of bacteria found have the potential to lead to illness, particularly for vulnerable groups, it is unlikely to make people in good health unwell.

“We don’t want people to stop drinking water and we don’t want organisations to remove water dispensers as they provide a valuable service.

“But, as the failures included a small proportion from water coolers in schools and care homes, there is cause for concern.

“We feel the legislation governing the quality of water from coolers should be reviewed.

“While there are regulations for bottled water, these are applicable at time of bottling and there is no legislation specifically for plumbed-in water coolers so we had to take tap water standards as covering these dispensers.”

“Ultimately these findings suggest that the cleanliness of water coolers has become a low priority for some organisations who have installed them.

“The time is right for an awareness campaign, not just to get organisations to make sure the coolers on their premises are cleaned and maintained regularly, but also to get people to use them in such a way that they don’t contaminate them for the next person.”

David Gibbs

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