When public health is endangered, the general public can only protect themselves if timely messages are received and understood. Previous research has shown that the cause of threats to public health can affect risk perception and behaviours. This study compares compliance to public health advice and consumer behaviour during two "Boil Water" notices issued in the UK due to a routine incident versus a natural disaster incident. A postal questionnaire was sent to 1000 randomly selected households issued a routine "Boil Water" notice. Findings were then compared to a previous study that explored drinking water behaviour during a "Boil Water" notice issued after serious floods. Consumers affected by the routine incident showed a significant preference for official water company information, whereas consumers affected by the natural disaster preferred local information sources. Confusion over which notice was in place was found for both incidents. Non-compliance was significantly higher for the natural disaster (48.3%) than the routine incident (35.4%). For the routine incident, compliance with advice on drinking as well as preparing/cooking food and brushing teeth was positively associated with receiving advice from the local radio, while the opposite was true for those receiving advice from the water company/leaflet through the post; we suggest this may largely be due to confusion over needing boiled tap water for brushing teeth. No associations were found for demographic factors. We conclude that information dissemination plans should be tailored to the circumstances under which the advice is issued. Water companies should seek to educate the general public about water notices and which actions are safe and unsafe during which notice, as well as construct and disseminate clearer advice on brushing teeth and preparing/cooking food.
Rundblad, G., Knapton, O., & Hunter, P. R. (2014). The causes and circumstances of drinking water incidents impact consumer behaviour: Comparison of a routine versus a natural disaster incident. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 11(11), 11915–11930. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph111111915