Employers are being warned to be vigilant around the possible risks of Legionnaires’ disease lurking in long-closed workplaces that could be being reopened from next week.
Health and safety organisation NSF International has urged building managers to be aware of the dangers of the disease being in the water systems of offices and workplaces that have been shut for months on end.
Covid and return to work
It has highlighted that, on average there are approximately 200-250 reported confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease each year in England and Wales, though it is thought the number of cases is generally under-estimated.
Low building occupancy has changed water use patterns, creating stagnant conditions favourable for Legionella growth. If inhaled, Legionella bacteria can lead to the potentially deadly Legionnaires’ disease, it warned.
“We’ve spent the last year battling Covid-19 cases, but there’s another potential health risk that businesses need to be aware of,” said Adrian Thompson, legionella training consultant working at NSF International.
“The threat of Legionnaires’ disease is particularly high now, not only due to buildings being left empty for long periods but because the disease often presents similar symptoms as Covid-19 so is at risk of being mis-diagnosed.
“Despite all offices having a water supply, many people won’t have considered the risks that this can pose, especially when left stagnant. Every building is different, so it is vital property management companies and business owners understand proactive water management systems ahead of reopening. Looking ahead and to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the workforce, these systems must be incorporated into long-term safety and resiliency plans,” he added.
NSF International has outlined a five-point checklist for businesses to mitigate Legionella risks upon their return:
- Flush water systems regularly in the lead up to people returning to the workplace. Increasing the temperature of hot water systems to above 60°C will kill Legionella bacteria over time, however thermostatic mixing valves and/or other measures must be considered to avoid scalding.
- Ensure a risk assessment is updated and includes a written scheme for a water safety plan dependent on the size of the business that complies with the Health and Safety Executive’s guidance L8 and HSG274 part 2.
- For certain buildings it may be appropriate to put in place in-line water quality monitoring systems, that continuously sense water temperature, disinfectant residuals, and stagnation times that are tied to automated valves.
- If you’re still concerned about Legionella in the office, businesses can undertake a chemical or thermal disinfection of the water system or microbiological sampling for Legionella bacteria by trained competent staff.
- Ensure all checking processes have been captured in regular reports. It is the responsibility of the business owners and office management to ensure offices are safe from Legionnaires’ disease