Conventional practices of monitoring water quality rely on output as a means for quality assurance. Such practices are not timely enough to prevent consumption of contaminated water and do not give sufficient information to identify the source of contamination (when, why, and where it occurred).
Water safety plans stand in contrast to conventional approaches. They introduce pro-active risk management that contributes to timely detection of contamination to prevent illness and rectify the problem through monitoring of critical points at the water source, treatment, distribution to the consumer, and end storage.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has promoted water quality assurance through water safety plans since the early 2000s and formally recommended them in the Third Edition of Guidelines for Drinking Quality published in 2004. This is because water safety plans work.
These plans identify credible risks in the water supply system from the source to consumer, prioritize those risks, and put in place controls to mitigate them. They also include processes to monitor and validate the effectiveness of management control systems and the quality of the water produced.
Water safety plans have been adopted by a number of developed and developing countries. Plans can vary in size and complexity as appropriate for the setting (monitoring hazards associated with a particular setting or system for example) though they commonly identify one catchment area, its distribution system, and associated consumption levels.
A current example of implementation of a water safety plan is Sri Lanka. In 2009, the WASH Coalition implemented a comprehensive quality surveillance programme that included a water safety plan.
Another example comes from WSSCC’s partner, the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) which, in 2005, developed a framework for action on drinking water quality and health in countries in the Pacific Islands.