Don’t let Legionella ruin your summer

There are a number of reasons why summer can be a hotspot for Legionella but, as with any risk, it’s all about how you manage it. This can be a challenge in itself though, as staff holidays may leave your maintenance and monitoring team under-resourced at a crucial time of year. A cursory glance at media coverage of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks supports this, with several court cases highlighting staff absences, inadequate holiday cover and lack of training of replacement staff as crucial factors in the failure of Legionella controls. To help you ensure all bases are covered this summer, here’s our guide to the main risk factors and how to control them.

1.      Manage staff carefully

If you haven’t done so already, make it a priority to review the Legionella control competencies of your maintenance team. Anyone involved in Legionella control should be formally trained and kept up-to-date on current practices through refresher courses and on-the-job training. When looking at your staff roster over the summer months, ensure that all Legionella monitoring activities are assigned to trained personnel, and overseen by a competent manager.

Any systems in place (temperature checks, flushing regimes, descaling, tank cleaning etc.) must be maintained as normal, despite any staff absences. There is good evidence to suggest that a disruption to regular routines (particularly flushing) can be particularly dangerous and lead to a significantly increased risk of Legionella, as this chart shows.

Essentially, when it comes to Legionella control, make sure it’s business as usual over the summer.

2.      Avoid problems with void property

In many institutions – particularly in schools and universities – the summer is when many buildings are under-occupied or left vacant. However, it’s vital to ensure that Legionella bacteria aren’t left to play while the students are away. Any water outlets that are under-used or mothballed over the summer must be flushed for at least two minutes every week to keep the water moving and avoid stagnation. When water is left lying in pipes or tanks, and particularly if they are exposed to sunlight or warm temperatures, bacteria flourishes, so by running the taps and showers and flushing the toilet, you will make certain that it doesn’t have a chance to take hold.

3.      Keep your cool as temperatures rise

Temperature is one of the key control measures for Legionella so, during the summer months, it’s imperative that you prevent the temperature of stored water rising above 20°C. The tepid zone of 20°C to 40°C is the perfect environment for bacterial growth, so keeping the cold water cold and the hot water hot (>50°C) will reduce the risk of Legionella.

Carry out weekly temperature checks (don’t forget to record your findings) and also consider any suitable measures for lagging or shading pipes and tanks which are exposed to sunlight.

4.      Service air conditioners

With the increasing use of air conditioning in commercial and public buildings, not to mention throughout the transport system, there comes an increased risk of Legionella-contaminated moisture particles being circulated in the air. Recent findings following outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease in Australia and the US have identified a large number of infected cooling towers, where bacteria has been allowed to flourish in air conditioning systems which haven’t been cleaned, maintained or serviced properly. Any building manager of an air conditioned property must be fastidious in their approach to operation and maintenance of the cooling system. Furthermore, it is not just the inhabitants of the building which are at risk, but even those just walking past in the street where the contaminated air may be discharged. Under these conditions, just one dirty cooling tower can lead to a large number of infections or even deaths.

These are just some of the ways to keep on top of Legionella control over the summer months, but if you need additional help or advice, we’re always happy to assist. Whether it’s reviewing your current procedure, topping up staff training, undertaking tank cleaning or implementing a full Legionella testing and audit programme, we can help.

Contact us today, before Legionella becomes too hot to handle.


Article originally published