Should plumbers be licensed?

Everyone knows (or should do) that we have to be licensed to work on gas, but there is nothing to stop anyone calling themselves a plumber in the UK. There is a lot more to plumbing than joining pipes together without leaks. Poor plumbing is just as dangerous as poor gas work. The advent of clean water and proper sewerage systems was hailed as the biggest single contribution to improving the health of our nation, eradicating many of the diseases that killed people in their thousands in years gone by. Wholesome water is supplied to our homes by the water companies and there are regulations (The Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999) to prevent inefficient use of water, the waste, misuse, undue consumption, incorrect measurement of it and, most importantly, to prevent contamination of drinking water supplies.

As a member of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE) and Watersafe we have proved our knowledge of the regulations and committed to work to the correct standards.

One of the biggest contravention of Water Regs we come across is the lack of or incorrect method of back-flow prevention. What is this? Back-flow prevention is all about stopping contaminated water from being drawn back into the water supply under adverse conditions. Water is classified under five categories in the regulations, with Category 1 being pure water as it is delivered to our properties by the water supplier. Category 5 is

Fluid which represents a serious health hazard because of the concentration of pathogenic organisms, radioactive or very toxic substances, including any fluid which contains –

faecal material or other human waste:

butchery or other animal waste: or

pathogens from any other source.

Would you want to be drinking or cleaning your teeth in Category 5 fluid? I doubt it, but this can happen if proper precautions are not taken.

This horse trough was installed in 2000 in contravention of the Water Regs. The trough is open to the elements and contains waterborne insects, it could also contain animal waste as well as decaying plant matter. The inlet valve is below the water level, meaning there is a risk of back-flow from this Category 5 fluid. In order to make it comply we cut a weir in the side to ensure an air gap.


Now it is impossible for the water level to rise to with 40mm of the inlet, ensuring there is always an air gap.

Other common contraventions that we see are shower hoses that are long enough to dangle into the bath or toilet and outside taps with no check valve both of which could siphon dirty water into the main via the hose pipe.

So next time you are thinking of doing some DIY plumbing, you may want to consider whether it is worth the risk to yours and your family’s health.