News added on 19.05.2020

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Legionella

Legionella guidance following lockdown

The HSE has issued a reminder to employers and landlords reopening their premises to check that the water systems do not expose the occupants to the risk of contracting Legionnaires' disease. What are the risks and what does the HSE advise?

Where premises have been closed down or underused, as many have during the coronavirus lockdown, there is an increased risk of legionella bacteria accumulating in the water and air conditioning systems. Lack of use can cause water to stagnate, which helps to create ideal conditions for the bacteria to grow.

In most cases, Legionnaires' disease causes a flu-like illness, but it can be fatal. The symptoms, including high temperature, a dry cough, breathing difficulties and aches and pains, could easily be confused with those of coronavirus.

The HSE has produced guidance for employers, the self-employed and others in control of premises, e.g. landlords, outlining the steps that these dutyholders need to take to manage the risks during the coronavirus outbreak. Any reduction in how the water system is used should have triggered a review of the legionella risk assessment. If a water system has been out of use, or used less frequently than usual, safety precautions will need to be taken before normal operation can resume. For example, cooling towers and evaporative condensers that were out of operation for over a month should have been drained down and disinfected. They will need to be disinfected again before refilling and returning to operation.

Dutyholders should work with their appointed competent person to identify how their water system can be safely recommissioned or returned to full use. The precise measures will depend on the nature of the system and extent to which it has been out of use or underused.

Cleaning and treating water systems usually requires the use of respitatory protective equipment (RPE) to protect the maintenance workers because of the risk of exposure to both legionella and the biocides or other chemicals involved. The guidance identifies alternative RPE that may be suitable if disposable RPE is in short supply because of the current high demand from the health and social care sector.

The guidance also includes information on the different methods of controlling the risk of legionella to help dutyholders who are having difficulties sourcing their usual biocides to identify suitable alternatives.

The guidance can be found here

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