Legionella and Legionnaires in the workplace? Yes, it’s something to be wary of but first, what are they? In a nutshell, legionellosis refers to a collection of diseases that result from water-borne bacteria. They are a type of pneumonia commonly characterized by cough, muscle aches, high fever, chest pain, fatigue and breathing difficulties. The most prevalent manifestation of legionellosis is the Legionella and Legionnaires’ disease.
This disease can be dangerous in people with existing conditions or those with low immunity in their bodies. The Public Health England reported 485 cases throughout the UK between January and December of 2015. Most of these cases were contracted after travelling overseas. However, there were some that came from the healthcare facilities within UK as well as from other private and public sources.
The law requires managers and employers to hold the duty of ensuring that this disease is prevented in the workplace. However, the responsibility can upon the consent of the of the management be delegated to approved health and safety specialists and contractors. These can be hired to offer legionella training services and make sure that the workplace is free of such an occurrence. Even with the delegation, those in charge on behalf of your organization should be conversant with the risks involve and with the best means to prevent this disease in the workplace.
What Risks Exists Concerning the Disease?
This disease is transmitted via the inhalation of infected water droplets present in water supply systems and sources. The bacteria also thrives such conditions as cooling towers, air conditioning systems, fountains, sprinklers, humidifiers, whirlpool baths, emergency showers and any other water source that can produce droplets that may stagnate somewhere or in water recirculation points.
Therefore, these are areas to monitor if they exist in your workplace. Speaking on general terms, the bigger and more sophisticated a water supply is, the high the chance of it being vulnerable. What this means is that, duty holders in charge of huge office buildings, leisure centers, big restaurants and hotels, universities and such like buildings need to keep a keen eye on that.
Reducing Risks of Legionella and Legionnaires’ disease
Your workforce is a very important asset to your company and should be safeguarded against this disease. Any attack on your workforce renders your organization ineffective in its operations. Therefore, it is important to have a regular maintenance routine for the water supply system. Ideally, the bacteria-causing organism thrives well in water systems with water temperatures between 20°C and 45°C. They will also find their way in water systems that are not well maintained especially those with sludge and algae along with other organic matter since bacteria feeds on them.
Make sure that you regulate the water temperatures making sure that cold water will always flow under 20°C and hot water ever heated to 60 °C and/or above. Always make sure that water flows continuously and at the same time avoid the accumulation of scale deposits in water particularly in hard water.
An important thing to note is that, Legionnaires’ disease cases are usually common between July and September. Since hotter temperatures during this time provide suitable conditions for the thriving of bacteria, it is always advisable to conduct a professional Health and Safety audit prior to the summer season. Here is a list of important checks and guidelines to follow to control the occurrence and spread of the Legionella and Legionnaires’ disease.
- Conduct monthly temperature checks both in hot water systems or in water heaters in high-risk surroundings
- Do annual inspection preferably prior to the summer on all cold water systems and tanks alongside monthly temperature measurements
- Flush both your hot and cold water systems every time new installations are made following refurbishments and maintenance
- Disinfect and de-scale humidifiers on a week-to-week basis.
- Inspect water tanks monthly
- Disinfect y-strainers, nozzles and shower-heads after every 3 months
- Filters for spa pools need cleaning on a monthly basis at least. It can be more frequent if the bather load is high
The legionella and Legionnaires ’ disease in the workplace can be controlled and prevented with a careful monitoring of the water systems in the company. Better compliance and effective management of the risks leading to this disease can be attained through the services of a health and safety professional. This person should be able to provide customized advice particularly on the best ways of prevention. Most importantly, they will be able to plan for regular and thorough inspections from time to time.