How to prevent Legionnaires disease in the workplace
Whether you’re working in a pub, a retail space, a hotel, or even an office – the chances are your water systems haven’t been used for a long time.
Dangerous bacteria and disease, such as Legionella, can multiply in stagnant water systems – and risk being transmitted to humans, with sometimes dangerous consequences.
Legionella can dangerously grow and spread in building water systems such as:
- Showerheads and taps
- Air-conditioning systems
- Large, complex plumbing systems
But there are a number of steps you can take to make sure you’re not putting your employees and the public at risk from catching Legionnaires’ disease from contaminated water systems.
What is legionella?
Legionella is a naturally occurring bacteria present in natural aquatic environments like lakes, rivers and water reservoirs but it can also be found in indoor plumbing systems.
In low levels, this bacteria doesn’t lead to disease, but it can multiply to dangerous amounts in certain conditions and cause Legionnaires’ disease (Legionellosis) – which is a potentially fatal type of pneumonia.
Legionnaires’ disease is most likely to grow to these dangerous levels within hot and cold-water systems in businesses.
The main factors that contribute towards the development of Legionella bacteria in commercial building water supply systems include:
- Cross-connections between potable and non-potable water
- Water stagnation
- Lukewarm water temperatures
- Excessive water age
- Insufficient disinfectant
People with weakened immune systems, underlying illnesses, those aged 50 or over and current or former smokers are most susceptible to Legionella infections, but even healthy individuals are at risk of contracting the disease. Symptoms of the disease include: a cough, difficulty breathing, chest pain, a high temperature and flu-like symptoms. It is not always easy to diagnose Legionnaires disease because it is so similar to the flu, so often, a urine or blood test is needed to correctly identify the disease.
What can your business do to stay safe?
There are simple ways to ensure your water systems within your business or commercial space are safe to use, and free from any harmful bacteria.
Firstly, a full risk assessment of your hot and cold water systems should be carried out, which monitors water quality parameters and ensures adequate measures are put in place to control the risks.
If, like most businesses in the UK, your business has recently reopened after a long period of closure, your water systems are likely to need prompt action to minimise water stagnation. Your water systems that have stood for months without use need to be flushed and chlorinated, to mitigate the risks of Legionnaires’ disease.
That’s why our team advises all businesses returning to the workplace after lockdown to undertake our Legionella assessment, where we can assess health risks and rectify areas of concern effectively and efficiently.
You may think the risk of legionella is small, but each year there are 200-250 reported cases of legionnaires disease and there are likely to be many more this year unless precautions are taken following lockdown.