Ensuring safe drinking water with the Public Health Act 2010 and Public Health Regulation 2012

The Public Health Act 2010 and the Public Health Regulation 2012 require drinking water suppliers to have and comply with a ‘quality assurance program’ (or drinking water management system). This requirement applies to water suppliers defined in the Act, including water utilities, private water suppliers and water carters. Major water utilities, such as Hunter Water Corporation, Sydney Catchment Authority and Sydney Water Corporation, already have risk-based drinking water management systems as a requirement of their operating licences.

What is a drinking water management system?

A drinking water management system (DWMS) consists of documents, procedures and other supporting information for the safe supply of drinking water. The DWMS must address the elements of the Framework for Management of Drinking Water Quality (Australian Drinking Water Guidelines) relevant to the operations of the supplier. At the heart of the Framework are Critical Control Points (CCPs). A CCP is an activity, procedure or process that is critical to control a water quality hazard (for example chlorination and filtration/particle removal).

Implementing a drinking water management system

The DWMS must be kept current and regularly reviewed to ensure that it has been properly implemented and risks are effectively addressed. The DWMS must be internally reviewed by the water utility at least annually and a report provided to the local Public Health Unit (PHU). A complete review should be conducted in consultation with relevant stakeholders including the PHU and Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) Water every four years in line with Strategic Business Planning. NSW Health recommends the use of an external facilitator for the risk assessment workshop. There is also guidance on external review/audit below.

The utility should assess risks, and if necessary, test for indicator organisms, pathogens, cyanobacteria, pesticides, disinfection byproducts, per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), other organic compounds and radiological contamination. The local PHU can help with technical support for risks assessments through specialist contractors and, where applicable, project monitoring. The NSW Health Drinking Water Monitoring Program booklet also provides information on further testing.

The PFAS National Environmental Management Plan provides information on a range of activities that may be associated with PFAS (refer to Appendix B). NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has established a PFAS investigation program for prioritising sites around NSW where PFAS were used in significant quantities. Utilities should ensure that they have assessed the risk to drinking water from EPA investigation sites. The water utility should engage the local PHU, the polluter and other relevant stakeholders.

Drinking water management system review and audit

Evaluation and audit of how drinking water quality is being managed is an element of the Framework. Water utilities should plan for external review or audit to demonstrate how they satisfy requirements of the Public Health Act 2010 and Public Health Regulation 2012. Regardless of the audits commissioned by the water utility, NSW Health has the authority to commission a comprehensive review of utilities’ DWMS.

Internal review External audit/review
Frequency At least annually Consult with PHU
Initiator Water utility Water utility or NSW Health
Reviewer Water utility NSW Health approved auditor/reviewer
  • Implementation of management system
  • Risks effectively addressed
  • CCP performance
  • Response to exceptions
  • Progress on actions and improvements
Determine in consultation with PHU but will include all items from internal review

Internal review

The DWMS must be reviewed by the water utility at least annually to ensure that it is being properly implemented and risks are effectively addressed. The DWMS must be kept current.

The internal review should consider critical control point (CCP) performance, response to exceptions, and progress on actions and improvements. Utilities should immediately notify the Public Health Unit of any incident affecting drinking water safety, refer to the NSW Health response protocols for further information.

A brief annual review report should be provided to the local PHU. The DWMS should also be provided if any changes were made. CCP data monitoring and annual report templates have been developed to provide utilities with tools to report and review DWMS implementation. Water utilities may use the template options available below or develop their own format. Water utilities can contact their local PHU for assistance in using the templates.

NSW Health will, as part of its submission on annual Performance Monitoring reports, provide to NSW DPIE Water the list of utilities that have submitted an annual review report.

External review/audit

Water utilities should consult with their local PHU to develop an external review/audit frequency. Some utilities have effectively had an audit of their DWMS with recent support projects and therefore may not require an audit in the near future.

Key areas for inclusion in the audit scope include:

  • effectiveness of DWMS implementation
  • CCP performance, including record keeping and response to exceptions
  • adequacy of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
  • progress on actions and opportunities for improvement
  • any changes to the DWMS that should be submitted to NSW Health
  • incident management procedures
  • training, mentoring and support for staff to familiarise them with SOPs and CCPs

The water utility should discuss the scope of the review or audit with their local PHU. The NSW Guidelines for Drinking Water Management Systems provides the basis for a comprehensive audit of the elements of the Framework.

The review/audit report should:

  • consider all relevant records including DPIE Water and PHU inspections or reports
  • focus on identifying opportunities for improvement, rather than adopting a pass/fail approach
  • provide clear and specific recommendations to improve drinking water risk management
  • prioritise recommendations in order of risk

The audit must be carried out by an independent reviewer or auditor approved by NSW Health. NSW Health approves the use of drinking water quality auditors on the IPART Audit Panel for this purpose. The link to the Panel is included under ‘more information’. Auditors are not limited to this Panel.

NSW Health will consider requests for the external review/audit to be conducted by a suitably qualified peer (for example, an engineer from another utility who is familiar with the Framework). Water utilities should consult their local PHU for advice on peer review.

For more information

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Page Updated: Thursday 24 October 2019
Contact page owner: Environmental Health