Health and wellness

4 Top Tips to Manage the Risk of Legionnaires’ Disease at Workplace

With the news surrounding Legionnaires’ disease and its impact on hospitality businesses recently, Tarundeep Singh from Celtic Water Solutions shares his insight on what hotels and restaurants should be doing to manage the risk of infection.

In 1976, 221 people in Philadelphia caught an infection leading to 34 deaths. All 221 of them were attending a convention of the American Legion. The following year, the reason of the death was identified as a previous unknown bacterium and subsequently named Legionella.

What is Legionnaires Disease?

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia — lung inflammation usually caused by infection.

Most people catch Legionnaires’ disease by inhaling the bacteria from water or soil. Older adults, smokers and people with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible to Legionnaires’ disease.

Legionnaires’ disease usually develops two to 10 days after exposure to legionella bacteria. It frequently begins with the following signs and symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever that may be 40°C or higher

Why Businesses Should Be Concerned about Legionella?

Legionella is found in natural water but can quickly proliferate and colonize any water system is favourable water conditions are present. 

Certain devices within your building or facility can spread contaminated water droplets.  These following examples should be monitored as potential sources for Legionella growth:

  • Hot and cold water storage tanks
  • Water heaters
  • Expansion tanks
  • Water filters
  • Electronic and manual faucets
  • Showerheads and hoses
  • Centrally installed misters, atomizers, air washers, and humidifiers
  • Infrequently used equipment including eyewash stations
  • Ice machines
  • Hot tubs
  • Decorative fountains
  • Cooling towers

Another compelling reason for any business to take the legionella risk seriously, is the legal one. An extensive legal and regulatory framework has arisen over the decades to help tackle legionella risks in commercial properties. It includes the likes of Health & Safety at Work Act which sets out actions for assessing and presenting the risk of legionella risk if present in premises.

It is the responsibility of the business owner or someone in the control of the premises to ensure the building water systems are safe. The human and financial cost of an outbreak for any business would be significant. 

How to Manage the Risk of Legionella?

To reduce risk of an outbreak in your facility, five steps can be taken to make sure workers are safe from the respiratory illness.

  1. Identify and assess the risk

The very first step to ensure your building premises are free from legionella bacteria is by identifying and assessing the level of risk present in your facility. In countries like the UK & Ireland, it is the responsibility of the business owners and landlords to conduct a legionella risk assessment to identify and assess the risk posed by legionella bacteria in water systems. 

The risk assessment should be carried out by a competent person, perhaps an external consultant, who has in-depth knowledge and experience carrying out risk assessments. 

  1. Manage the Risk

Once the risk in your facility has been identified and assessed, a legionella responsible person must be appointed to take on the day to day responsibility of managing legionella risk. 

This will involve implementing the recommendations from the risk assessment, selecting contractor to carry out any remedial work and arranging for routine monitoring of systems.

  1. Prevent & Control

Various measures can be implemented in the building to minimize the chances of visitors getting exposed to legionella bacteria. 

This includes preparing and implementing a written scheme of control for legionella bacteria that would detail the managing policies and operational procedures detailing how the risks identified by risk assessment would be prevented and maintained. 

One such measure which is generally employed by water hygiene consultants is controlling the temperature of water. Keeping cold water systems cold and hot water systems hot is the strategy deployed under this control scheme. Raising the temperature of hot water systems to above 60°C kills the legionella bacteria present in water. 

  1. Keep Records 

Everything a business does to manage and control legionella bacteria must be recorded. This should begin with keeping a record of every risk assessment, so that you can refer back to it for evidence of the issues identified and what actions have been undertaken to lower the risk.

Maintaining records of water temperatures and other measures employed is critical to demonstrate compliance with health and safety laws.

Bottom Line

It is critical for businesses to manage the hidden risk of legionella in their water systems and comply with relevant health and safety laws. Water management plans and testing for Legionella bacteria are imperative for keeping your employees, customers and visitors safe.

The first step to achieving compliance is to get started with a risk assessment which will identify and assess the level of risk present in your business water systems.

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