If you have enjoyed reading our Responsible Business Report 2009, here are some additional ‘snapshots’ with further information and stories from across the company
In July 2008 one of our operations centre engineers spotted that we had exceeded the daily abstraction licence limit for raw water from the River Thames at Chertsey water treatment works, during one of his routine checks on records of quantities of raw water abstracted.
After double checking, the engineer then informed the Environment Agency which is the organisation that regulates the abstraction of raw water from rivers and boreholes.
An investigation was carried out to establish the reason for exceeding the abstraction limit. It was established that manual modification of an automated pumping schedule by one of our operations centre staff, in response to falling levels in a raw water reservoir, had inadvertently led to two large pumps being started instead of one large and one small pump.
The records showed that the limit had been exceeded by just over 10 per cent during a single day, and that this was the first such instance in more than 20 years of operating the works under automatic control.
In response to this incident, we have installed raw water abstraction alarms on all our sites where water is abstracted from the River Thames. These provide an audible and visible warning to operations centre staff if, or when, 95 per cent of the licence limit is reached. The alarms also serve as a reminder to staff about the procedure to follow when modifying pumping schedules.
A written report was sent to the Environment Agency within a week of the incident explaining the cause and the actions taken to prevent it happening again.
Ofwat set a target to reduce leakage to 140 million litres per day (Mld) by March 2009.
In response we prepared a robust plan to meet this target, taking into account anticipated increases in leakage during winter as a result of more burst pipes caused by cold weather.
Tracking down leaks and repairing or replacing pipes is an important part of our business plan, as is our ongoing programme of improving our ageing underground network of pipes. Around 15 per cent of our staff are involved in finding and fixing leaks and last year we repaired some 29,000 leaks on the network.
Many of our water mains are made of cast iron and are laid in London clay which can be corrosive to this metal. In addition, the movement of clay as it expands and contracts puts extra strain on the pipes, making them prone to leaks and bursts. The vibration and ground movement caused by heavy vehicles and the sheer volume of traffic on our roads is another contributory factor.
One of the core elements of our investment programme is replacing old water mains. During 2009, we installed 138km of new main, bringing the total for the last four years to 580km.
Last winter’s weather was unusually severe and we experienced more than three times our average rate of burst pipes in January and February. We invoked a company emergency to repair the burst pipes and reduce leakage. We also worked around the clock to restore supplies to customers and avoid running water freezing on paths and roads which could cause accidents. Together the measures we put in place enabled us to meet the leakage target for the year.
Twice a year our water quality team hosts liaison meetings at our Hatfield head office, giving the company’s water quality specialists an opportunity to meet with local Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) and Consultants in Communicable Disease Control (CCDCs).
The meetings attract representatives from local authorities and health authorities across the company’s supply area and provide an opportunity to share experiences, learn from each other and discuss matters relating to water quality and public health.
The water quality team present results of the company’s water quality performance monitoring programme, share plans for developments in water treatment and supply technology and practices, present findings from research and development projects and report on any proposed changes to regulations.
Similarly, the EHOs and CCDCs have an opportunity to ask questions, raise any concerns, challenge the company’s water quality specialists and discuss advances in public health medicine.
By engaging professionals from various disciplines and backgrounds, mutual understandings have been reached and trust developed between the company, local authorities and district health authorities.
It’s been action stations at Heron Lake as groups of wounded UK servicemen put on their water-skis to join the British Disabled Waterski Association, Southern Region (BDWSA).
The servicemen have been taking part in a series of extreme water-based activities as part of the new initiative ‘Battle Back’, which is the brainchild of Army Lieutenant Colonel Fred Hargreaves.
The aim is to encourage and enable adaptive adventure training and sports for all those seriously injured either during active service, training exercises or in the line of their duties.
Chairman of the Southern branch of BDWSA Mick Brealey said; “We have new groups of servicemen taking part in weekly activities during the summer. The golden rule here at Heron Lake is forget the restrictions of the land, leave your disability behind and feel the freedom of the water. We are pleased to be able to work in partnership with Battle Back and to help our military personnel back on the road to rehabilitation”.
The facilities at Heron Lake are open to a large variety of people across the UK. They can cater to all ages and a wide range of disabilities. The courses they provide range from one-off ‘come and try’ afternoons to weekly residential group courses. Charges are minimal to enable access for all.
In 2009 we changed our approach to community support by choosing a “Charity of the Year”. The aim was to focus the efforts of the company and our staff for the whole year to really make a difference for one chosen charity.
In addition, we also continued to support a range of other local charities in the communities within our supply area.
Help the Aged/Age Concern was chosen as our charity of the year. All of us know, and may care for, older people in the community and we understand the issues they face.
This charity provided opportunities for staff to personally get involved in projects to help the elderly, through team and company-wide fundraising events. These included garden make-over days and morning tea events at a St Albans day centre and an Egham centre.
Our fundraising efforts helped provide safety services to disadvantaged older people in our supply area.
These included the Handyvan service which helps secure properties so older people can live safely and independently in their own homes. The service assists by fitting door chains, window locks, smoke alarms and spy holes. Another service to benefit was SeniorLink – a 24 hour immediate response service that helps an elderly person if they fall or feel threatened. Our fundraising also went toward Christmas lunch grants which enable older people to enjoy Christmas and not feel isolated or cut off from the community.
Our Network Regulations team was called in to investigate the plumbing system in a building that had been converted into more than 20 homes, after we received complaints from customers about water with an unpleasant taste and odour.
The team found that a water tank installed in the basement of the building had been contaminated by an overflow pipe that was connected to the building’s sewer pipe.
We immediately made contact with both the local authority and district health authority, and advised customers not to drink the water until the water supply system was fixed by the owner of the building, In the interim, an alternative supply of safe drinking water was provided to residents.
Further investigation by our team revealed that several other buildings in the same town had also undergone conversion by the same developer and had similar water supply arrangements –all of which posed a potential risk of contamination.
We worked with the local authority and district health authority to ensure that the owner changed the water supply systems in all the affected buildings.
This was one of the rare occasions when we had to use our legal powers to ensure that the property owner complied with the requirements of the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999. This is a set of regulations that applies to the water supply systems within all buildings in England and Wales. The regulations exist to safeguard the quality of customers’ drinking water.
Our success in working with the relevant authorities to investigate this case was recognised by the Drinking Water Inspectorate and the case has since been used as an example of best practice at a series of local authority workshops across the country.
As part of our commitment to protect the environment and boost local Barn Owl numbers, we have installed a Barn Owl nesting box at the Croxley House residential care home near Rickmansworth.
Croxley House was identified as a perfect location for the new Barn Owl nesting box because there was rough grassland nearby to entice prey and the position lined up with other boxes along the Colne Valley, creating a new potential home for young owls when they fledged and dispersed along the river corridor.
We worked closely with the residents and staff at Croxley House on the project and they were keen to add the nesting box to other bird tables already established in the gardens.
The nesting box at Croxley House and others in the Colne Valley will be monitored regularly by a local Wildlife Conservation Partnership owl expert.
Most of the owl nesting boxes throughout Hertfordshire are either on our sites, or have been installed with funding from the company.
During the past 12 years, we have worked with local owl experts to help double the population of Barn Owls in the area.
We extended our environmental management system (EMS) and achieved ISO 14001 certification for all our production and supply sites during 2008.
This success was achieved through a multidisciplinary team who built on the success of the EMS piloted at a single site, North Mymms Water Treatment Works, which was certified in 2007.
Implementation of the EMS has enabled the production and supply team to understand the impact their activities have on the environment and ensure that appropriate controls are in place to manage these impacts. Where possible, the teams are also encouraged to make improvements that will reduce or eliminate these impacts.
The extension of the EMS has resulted in immediate improvements in environmental performance including increased recycling of metals, plastics, cardboard and paper to reduce waste going to landfill; improved storage and disposal of hazardous waste generated on site; installation of energy efficient variable speed pumps which use less energy; and improved chemical handling including the provision of spill kits, special storage areas and chemical interceptor tanks to reduce the likelihood of pollution should a spillage occur.
The EMS has proved to be important in helping us to manage the environmental impacts of our activities. It has also enabled us to improve our environmental performance by reducing these impacts (and sometimes reduce our costs at the same time), to comply with relevant legislation and to demonstrate that we properly manage environmental risks.
By continuing to set ourselves new objectives and targets and regularly reviewing our progress, we will achieve further improvements in future years.
During 2008 our production and supply staff, who maintain and operate our complex and sophisticated water production and supply facilities, achieved certification to the Competent Operators Scheme for Water Treatment Works.
The scheme, also known as the National Occupational Standard for water treatment works, is endorsed by the water industry trade organisation Water UK. It is managed by Energy and Utility Skills (EUS) – the government sponsored Sector Skills Council for the gas, power, waste management and water industries.
The certification provides independent recognition of the qualifications our production and supply staff have achieved over the years. Many of these qualifications and competencies were established by us and additional skills have been gained by individuals through a range of training and development methods.
The 50 staff who operate our water treatment and supply facilities have all achieved ‘competent’ operator status under the certification, earning the same status for the company overall. Several staff have also gone on to reach the higher ‘authorised’ status level.
Winning Performance is a company wide recognition scheme that rewards staff who have gone above and beyond the day-to-day expectations of their job. People who live our values and act as role models for us all. A winning performance recipient could be someone who’s shown exceptional customer service, come up with an innovative idea, delivered efficiency, demonstrated great leadership or enhanced our reputation. The scheme relies on employees sending in nominations for individuals or teams who they think deserve an award for their exceptional work. Twice a year a panel meets to consider every nomination and they decide which nominations meet the ‘winning performance categories’ in order to receive an award. Previous awards that have been presented include:
An operations technician who designed lifting equipment for a water treatment works that will pay for itself in months, saving the company money and to be used for many years to come.
A network manager who went the “extra mile” and worked hard to protect the company’s reputation.
An IT analyst who went the “extra mile” during a recent maintenance upgrade and approached his work with a consistent 'can do - will do' attitude.
A customer services manager who provided supportive and helpful team leadership to support a project.
An operations technician who took a leading role in the installation of new equipment.
A joint network/IT project team who completed an IT upgrade in time for the introduction of changes to the Traffic Management Act.
In October 2008 we extended our flexible working policy, known as “WorkWise”, to all our staff.
This was done in recognition of the fact that our staff lead busy lives and all have ever-growing demands placed on them to meet all their responsibilities outside the workplace.
WorkWise also helps us ensure that our employees remain healthy and happy at work.
Flexible working essentially means changing work patterns to better suit personal needs and preferences.
For example, this could mean starting work later to avoid traffic congestion, or having a shorter lunch break to leave early and collect the kids from school. Flexible working might also mean working from home or another company site that's easier to get to.
Whatever the preferred changes to work patterns are, we aim to try and support our staff, as long as we also continue to meet team and business needs.
Currently more than 150 staff are working flexibly and enjoying the benefits of having more control over their work pattern.
Our WorkWise Flexible Working policy aims to ensure that a fair and consistent process is adopted for requesting and managing flexible working requests. This means that everyone can ask to change their working pattern and all managers need to give careful consideration to their request.
Not all types of flexibility are available to everyone, due to the constraints of their role. However we hope that some degree of flexibility should be achievable for everyone.