In the race to restart normal working practices, as the COVID-19 lockdown eases, building owners must not overlook the risk of increased microbiological contamination within their water systems. With minimal activity for weeks, many systems will have stagnant water within them, which provides the ideal breeding ground for deadly pathogens, such as Legionella, to develop. As such, business owners face an immediate challenge when assessing how to safely restart water system operations and reopen facilities.
After just a couple of weeks, Legionella can develop significantly within stagnant water. The pathogen, which causes Legionnaires’ disease, causes severe pneumonia, respiratory issues and can prove fatal. With an unprecedented number of premises currently shut, the risk of Legionella contamination within inactive water systems is greater than normal. In fact, the Association of Plumbing & Heating Contractors (APHC) believes the issue represents a “serious public health concern.”
At Alpha Heating Innovation, we recognise the concern and echo the APHC’s comments. However, we also believe there are simple steps that businesses can take to safely resume operations. For one, it is essential to be vigilant about the problem and inform staff accordingly. In particular, businesses operating older water systems, especially those fed by cold water storage tanks and serving showers or spray taps, or businesses with water systems which have been poorly maintained during their lifespan, should look to consult a qualified heating and plumbing engineer before reopening.
Newer and closed or mains fed systems tend to be less affected by the issue. However, even if you believe your system will be fine there are still some easy steps to take to best ensure safety. To begin with, we would recommend opening and running every tap or outlet for several minutes prior to use. This will help to flush out any stagnant water that may have collected in storage cylinders or pipework during the lockdown. If possible, wear a mask when completing this task, particularly when operating showers or spray taps, as Legionella pathogens are more readily transferred via a fine spray.
Additionally, we’d recommend that business owners and facility managers check certain appliances are fully functional before attempting to resume ‘normal’ operations. For example, it is good practice to ensure your building’s hot water generators (i.e. water heaters, cylinders, etc.) can reach sufficient temperatures to carry out thermal pasteurization. After a prolonged period of inactivity, appliances such as boilers have an elevated risk of system failure. Conducting a quick and easy assessment of functionality will help you assess whether any damage has occurred. In turn, this gives you an opportunity to remedy any potential issue before fully reopening.
At Alpha Heating Innovation, we’re committed to helping businesses deal with all manner of water and heating system problems. As of right now, the risk of Legionella outbreaks is a clear concern, but with the right guidance, we believe safety can easily be ensured. As with any challenge, it’s important that businesses communicate potential risks clearly with their peers and staff. Similarly, it’s imperative to reach out to industry experts, like us, for guidance. Together, we can help the country on its path back to everyday operations.
For further information and advice from the Health and Safety Executive, please click here.