Small Business Safety: Liabilities of Mismanaged Water

[This article was written by John M. O’Brien.]

In this day and age, every business can face a sustainability issue. It’s nearly impossible to turn on the news without running into problems either directly or indirectly related to business responsibility and sustainability. It may be related to health and safety, working conditions, environmental practices, or something else.

Unsurprisingly, most businesses believe sustainability is important, for example, doing things such as incorporating environmental and societal concerns into their business models, but also that it’s someone else’s job. As technology makes it easier than ever for consumers to chose businesses aiming to have a positive impact on the society and the environment, smaller businesses must go beyond mere tinkering with procedures in planning their responsibility and sustainability plans of actions.

When it comes to water use, scarcity and hidden costs abound. According to the World Wildlife Fund, by 2025 some 2.8 billion people will face water scarcity. It’s simple: conserve water, and your business will plan for a sustainable future and be able to reduce the size of the water and sewerage bill. Use water wisely, and you will avoid exposing your business to a whole host of hidden costs and potential liabilities.

From a plaintiff attorney’s perspective, there are good reasons for business users to manage water more efficiently. There are potential liabilities of unsafe property conditions related to poor water management. In addition, there are a number of water-related costs that pose challenges for a business: wastewater, unknown leaks, fines, brand equity, and civil liabilities.

The cost of mismanaged wastewater

Businesses that don’t manage water carefully produce more wastewater and are charged at rapidly rising rates to dispose of it. Wastewater discharge non-compliance can be more expensive than ever before; it can affect the bottom line profitability through increased charges, fines, and monitoring costs. Moreover, costs can be substantially higher if the business is discharging wastewater to a water body controlled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The hidden costs of water leaks

Water leaks can cause insidious damage and may go undetected for weeks or even months and each year contribute to a significant portion of repair and maintenance costs. A single running water toilet can waste as much as 250 gallons of water daily, which translates to approximately $2K a year down the toilet bowl. As noted by the EPA, even a dripping faucet can waste up to 3K gallons of water a year.

Fines for water mismanagement

Water shortages threaten many parts of the United States. When businesses don’t adhere to the water restrictions and regulations implemented by numerous cities and states, they may have to pay fines for non-compliance, often running into the thousands of dollars annually.

Businesses can also be fined for pollution runoff from lawn and landscape chemicals, usually the result of excessive irrigation. Runoff carries pollutants like dirt, trash, chemicals, and oils into storm drains, which flow untreated into the rivers, streams, lakes, and the ocean. To protect these resources, businesses, especially those in the construction industry, can use stormwater controls, known as best management practices (BMPs).

Damage to business reputation

Consumers are more and more interested in environmental issues and show concern over water waste. Non-compliance and negative media coverage can damage the business image, which takes decades to build. A loss of consumers confidence in a business’ products or services can lead them to choose a competitor. If a business is ordered to clean up after itself, it will have to consider not just the cost of the cleanup but also the cost of repairing the damage to its share price and loss of investor confidence.

Potential civil liability

Slip and falls are the typical type of accident causing injuries that personal injury lawyers litigate and make up the majority of work accident claims. Commonly the result of wet pavement, the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index reports falls as costing US businesses nearly $14 billion each year. So, in a worst-case scenario, poor water management can be dangerous, causing accidental injury.

To ensure business continuity and meet future market demands, small businesses should look at the issue of water resources as a matter of importance. The need for, and the benefits of, using water safely and efficiently, are part of the longer-term view of water management. New approaches are welcomed and it’s wise for businesses to put water management and safety first since it will also help prevent injuries.

Author Bio:

John M. O’Brien is the founder of O’Brien & Zehnder Law Firm. With offices in Elk Grove and Sacramento, O’Brien & Zehnder Law Firm is committed to representing people harmed by slip and fall accidents, motor vehicle accidents, defective products, and other personal injury cases caused by the negligence or fault of another.


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