Our country is slowly going back to normal. Businesses are beginning to open up, implementing safety measures to protect their employees and customers. As the economy begins to turn once more, we understand that many of you will be eager to return to your work premises and welcome customers once again. However, if you have drinking water facilities or have a shower on the premises, there is a very specific risk you should be aware of – Legionnaires Disease. This post will advise on how you can avoid the spread of this potentially deadly infection when you return to work.
What is Legionnaires Disease?
Caused by legionella bacteria, Legionnaires Disease is known as a severe atypical pneumonia. It is a respiratory infection that, although relatively uncommon, has the potential to be fatal. In fact, approximately 1 out of every 10 cases will end in death. The bacteria is commonly spread by breathing in small droplets of contaminated water. According to the World Health Organisation, symptoms normally present themselves within 2-10 days of exposure to contaminated water and include:
A high temperature, feeling feverish or experiencing chills
A persistent cough
A mild headache
Tiredness and confusion
Shortness of breath
Chest pains – similar to those normally experienced with pneumonia.
Some people will only experience mild symptoms, going on to make a full recovery. However, there are certain people who are more at risk including:
People over the age of 50
People with underlying health conditions (for example, kidney disease)
People with weakened immune systems.
In these instances, Legionnaires Disease can cause more significant implications including respiratory failure, septic shock and acute kidney failure.
How does the disease spread?
There are two main ways that someone can catch Legionnaires Disease – through contaminated water and through exposure to contaminated potting soil. In both of these instances, the legionella bacteria is already found naturally. However, it is in increased levels that it becomes potentially harmful to humans.
Most people that catch the infection will inhale contaminated water. Therefore, drinking water and that which comes from sources such as a shower as the most likely to cause problems in a business. There are 2 conditions that cause bacteria to reach a harmful level:
An increased volume of recirculated water that has become contaminated with rust, sludge or slime
A consistent water temperature between 20 – 45°C
With both of these conditions met, the bacteria can multiply and grow to dangerous levels. And the way in which this is most likely to impact you as a business owner is through the water that has been left to sit in your building during the lockdown. Complex plumbing systems are most commonly found in larger buildings. Here, it is increasingly likely that contamination has occurred, particularly if water has been sat stagnant for an extended period of time.
How can I prevent spread upon returning to work?
There are a number of simple ways to actively reduce the risk of your employees or customers from being exposed to this harmful bacteria.
Flush out your system
When you return to work, it’s important to flush out the stagnant water from your system. To do this, run each of your taps for a period of time until the water runs clear and is cool to the touch. Check the tap water temperature – for hot water, ensure it is over 60°C and for cold, 20°C. These temperature levels will either kill the bacteria off or prevent it from growing. We recommend identifying which tap is closest to your water source and running this first before moving on to the ones further away.
Empty out water tanks
If you provide drinking water to your employees and customers, check if they have been left stagnant. Empty out partially used tanks and use freshwater instead. Additionally, if you have a cold water tank, it will need to be thoroughly cleaned and refilled. Water drained from hot water cylinders should be checked for debris and signs of corrosion in the pipes. These are both signs that the legionella bacteria could be in your water.
If you need to flush out water from a spray outlet (such as a hosepipe or showerhead), ensure you are wearing correct respiratory PPE. It is commonly spread by inhaling droplets so make sure your mouth is covered and gloves are worn. More appropriately, for these cases, we highly recommend enlisting the help of a professional plumber who will have the equipment and expertise needed for this task.
Fit to minimise the growth
When planning out a plumbing system, a professional plumber should take actions that help to inhibit the possibility of this bacteria growth. Things they should consider include:
Insulating pipes and tanks to maintain safe water temperatures
Using materials throughout that inhibit or discourage the growth of bacteria
Fitting tanks with insect screens and lids
Keep pipework as short as possible
Enlist a professional
Legionnaire’s Disease is a serious and potentially fatal infection. If there is a risk the water in your property may have stagnant water or contamination from other factors, we highly recommend contacting a professional, reliable and experienced plumber. Here at Thames Gas, we have a certified and qualified team of plumbing engineers on hand to support the reopening of your business in Aveley, Essex, Barking and across the UK. Get a quote from our website or give us a call on 0203 794 0149 to make sure your premises is safe upon opening after lockdown.
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