A COVID Safe Workplace Might Not Be Legionella Safe...
Legionella is a bacteria that is found in water systems. If it infects a human being, they may suffer from pneumonia type symptoms since this bacteria infects the lungs. It’s easy to catch too; small water droplets are inhaled, often without the victim even realising (such as in a shower or walking by an air conditioning unit), and the bacteria starts to breed in the lungs. The condition can be treated, but it can also be fatal.
So although you will have been starting to get back to work and concentrating on making your workplace COVID safe, have you made it legionella safe? Or are your employees walking into a building that could make them very unwell indeed (or worse)?
The Temperature Issue
The most common place to find legionella bacteria is in manmade water systems, the likes of which you’ll find in buildings all around the world. Domestic cold water storage tanks, hot water storage such as calorifiers, showers, pipework, air conditioning units, cooling towers, spa pools… the list goes on, and legionella bacteria can be found in all of them. This bacteria actually thrives in water with a constant temperature of between 20 and 50 degrees, which is why a regular temperature check on your outlets is important.
Your cold water should be stored at less than 20 degrees and your hot water should be stored at around 60 degrees (because it will cool as it travels around the building, and by the time it reaches the outlets, it should be around 50 degrees). This will help to prevent legionella bacteria from spreading, but it’s not enough by itself.
Sprays Aren’t Legionella Safe
Legionnaire’s disease (the illness that results from breathing in legionella bacteria) is caught through contaminated water droplets. So anything in your workplace that has any kind of spray (and not just the obvious ones like showers either; some taps spray a lot when they are used due to the way they were installed or the angle of the sink – imagine someone bending down to wash their face, or a wheelchair user at the sink; they could easily inhale bacteria).
If you have sprays in your workplace and they can be removed they should be; this eliminates the risk of legionella entirely. If you can’t take them out then you need to reduce the risk as far as practicably possible. In other words, a regular testing and cleaning routine will need to be put in place to ensure that no nasty bacteria is growing.
Little Used Outlets
Another area where legionella bacteria likes to sit and wait is in little used outlets and the pipework that serves them. If a tap hasn’t been used for a while, the first slug of water that comes out when it is used again will have been hanging around in the pipework for days, maybe even weeks. It will have been festering and warming up (or cooling down) and legionella will often decide they’ve found an excellent place to stay.
When people have been furloughed as they have during the coronavirus outbreak and then start to go back to work (and this includes schools after the holidays or any kind of workplace or building that has been empty for any kind of reason), those little used outlets may become very much used (especially since more and more people are going to be washing their hands more frequently).
Flushing the little used outlets through on a weekly basis is a good idea when a building it empty. It means the water is being continuously cycled and there is little time for bacteria to grow.
To be extra safe, commissioning a clean chlorination of your tanks and associated hot and cold water services before anyone returns will ensure everything is clean and ready to go.
For more advice and for help with testing and auditing, please get in touch with us at Assured Water Services.