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New Regs to address hot water failures

The plumbing industry has welcomed government proposals aimed at preventing hot water system failures similar to the one that left ten-month-old Rhianna Hardie fatally scalded.

The proposed changes to Part G of the Building Regulations specify that hot water systems should be able to resist the effects of temperature and pressure even if a malfunction occurs. The requirement applies to any vessel that supplies water to or receives expansion water from a hot water system and covers the design, construction and installation of all parts of the system.

Rhianna Hardie died several weeks after hot water poured on her as she slept in a cot in her family’s council house in Taunton, Somerset, in November 2006. An inquest heard that a thermostat failed, resulting in scalding water flooding the cold water cistern. It, in turn, buckled and leaked hot water on to the baby.

The HSE said the incident occurred primarily because the plastic storage cistern was not supported across its entire area, meaning part of the cistern’s base protruded over the support board. A similar incident in Penwith, Cornwall in 2002 also resulted in a fatality.

“Rhianna Hardie’s death was a terrible tragedy and our sympathies remain with her family,” said a spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). “We want to do all we can through the building control system to prevent the possibility of this happening in the future.”

Blane Judd, chief executive of the Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering, said he was satisfied with the “much stronger” set of regulations. 

“This specifies how hot water systems should be supported, which is something that might have saved Rhianna Hardie’s life. The regulations will apply to new installations, but they will also act as good practice when retrofits or upgrades are done,” he said.

Bob Towse, the HVCA’s technical officer, also welcomed the proposed change. “It’s right that the Building Regulations should try to address this. It was overkill for the local authority to change the thermostats [in nearly 5,000 council homes], when it was all about bad installation of the cistern in the first place.”

Following Rhianna’s death, Taunton Deane Borough Council installed new thermostats with safety cut-off mechanisms in council properties with immersion heaters.

The Government has launched a consultation on the proposed changes to Part G of the Building Regulations.

The consultation, which closes on August 5, asks for views on the introduction of controls to limit temperatures at hot water outlets. The DCLG said there are on average 21 fatalities a year due to hot water scalding in baths. It pointed to the introduction in Scotland of regulations requiring the installation of thermostatic mixing valves which limit water temperatures to 48 deg C.

But the DCLG said a cost-benefit analysis did not support regulatory change in England and Wales, with the costs outweighing monetised benefits by about 3 to 1.

Mr Towse said the Government was right not to make outlet temperature controls mandatory. “We all recognise and have great sympathy for people who have been scalded or injured, but we are worried about the costs and other implications of trying to impose that across all domestic properties,” he said.