Controlling Legionella risk in the time of COVID

Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia caused by breathing in tiny droplets of water containing Legionella bacteria. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and greater awareness of the risk of aerosol-borne disease, there is a pressing need to prioritise Legionella control. If a property has been lying empty or is under-occupied, the risk of Legionella growth is increased due to water stagnation.

Urban Environments is at the forefront of Legionella control in the social housing sector, as well as in healthcare, education, leisure and other commercial property. Working with the UK’s leading social housing organisations, including the G15, the company’s qualified team of water hygiene engineers provide a comprehensive nationwide service.

Legionella risk factors

Founder and technical director of Urban Environments, James Homard, paints a vivid picture of how Legionella thrives in an inadequately-managed water system: “This is a bacteria that loves warm, still water with plenty of nutrients to feed on, such as rust, limescale or other debris which might collect in a tank or pipework. Our job is to make sure that our clients’ water supply is a hostile environment for Legionella, by being clean, free-running and either too hot (above 60˚C) or too cold (below 20˚C) for the bacteria to survive. “Empty or under-occupied buildings can create the perfect conditions for Legionella. If taps aren’t being run and toilets flushed regularly, water isn’t moving adequately around the system. If the thermostat is turned off or turned down to save money, the water temperature isn’t high enough to kill the bacteria and, particularly in the summer months, the ambient temperature is likely to be in the sweet spot for Legionella growth. Limescale, rust and other contaminants must also be controlled to cut off the bacteria’s food supply.”

Increased vigilance

James Homard notes that local councils are stepping up their focus on Legionella control compliance in the wake of businesses reopening after lockdown. “There is increasing attention being paid to
water hygiene by Environmental Health Officers and the HSE, and rightly so. “With buildings being mothballed for several months during lockdown, it’s vital that when they open up that they are clean, healthy places for people to live and work in. It’s not just a matter of deep cleaning to eliminate COVID, but also paying attention to the unseen threat of Legionella in the water system.
“Throughout lockdown we continued to work with our existing clients on regular tasks such as flushing, temperature checks and maintenance, so they are well-placed for reopening. Any businesses and landlords who haven’t kept on top of such matters will need to take swift action.”

Five actions to take now
James Homard, offers the following advice to landlords:

1. Get professional help -Work with a qualified specialist water hygiene contractor to assess the Legionella control needs of your buildings. As a minimum, look for membership of the Legionella Control Association and ISO accreditation

2. Use a reliable risk management system -The authorities are looking for evidence of proper Legionella controls. CAT-SI, an app-based compliance tool, is integral to our service delivery, enabling us to share up-to-date Legionella monitoring information with clients collaboratively. It notes every asset in the water system, records all maintenance tasks, temperature readings, flushing actions etc. Clients can download reports and access real-time data 24/7.

3. Understand your water system-Have a comprehensive record of your water system (pipework, boilers, water tanks, taps and outlets etc.). Again, we use CAT-SI for this. Assess the risks, inspect the system regularly and fix problems quickly. Keep your risk assessment under constant review too.

4. Take responsibility- Don’t under-estimate the importance of a regular prevention regime such as flushing outlets, water temperature checks and descaling. Keep careful records of what you do and when, and make sure tasks are still carried out if staff are off sick or on holiday.

5. If in doubt, test -If you’re in any doubt about harmful Legionella levels in your water system, have it tested. We carry out fast, reliable water analysis for clients. COVID-safe procedures Urban Environments has been operating under strict COVID-safe procedures since March and continued to provide its vital services throughout lockdown. PPE protocols and increased staff training ensure that their engineers can operate safely even in high risk environments such as hospitals and care homes.

As James Homard points out, the stakes are higher than ever: “The people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 are also those for whom Legionella presents the greatest danger – the elderly, those
with underlying health conditions or people with compromised immune systems. We share the responsibility with our clients for minimising risks and continuing our vital work to keep everyone