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Have You Considered Legionella Risk In Your Restart Procedures?

Businesses are facing big programmes of work as COVID restrictions are lifted and premises are being opened back up, some to full occupancy and utilisation. Even in a commercial office or retail unit there will be new protocols on hygiene and social distancing, but in industrial organisations, much deeper issues need to be considered.

The Government has this month issued new guidance regarding water hygiene, and specifically for buildings and sites which have been closed or subject to reduced occupancy. Naturally, the cessation of many operations, possibly for up to 12 months in some cases, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has meant water consumption has decreased significantly, which could have a negative impact on water hygiene procedures.

Robinsons Facilities Services work with many industrial organisations who have legionella control systems and operate with hot and cold water systems which require strict procedures in terms of maintaining water quality and removing the potential for harmful bacteria growth.

Implementing a legionella risk mitigation plan

Where operations have been reduced or closed down completely, facilities managers should have implemented a formal shutdown procedure, which should also have included a full legionella risk assessment and risk mitigation plan. This would have meant that water systems, pipework and tanks will have been flushed completely and left empty where possible, and the system periodically flushed thereafter. The legionella responsible person will then monitor the system throughout the period it hasn’t been used, because it is still possible for bacteria to grow and to cause illness, particularly in piped water systems where ‘dead legs’ exist and small pools of standing water can sit undetected and not visible for a prolonged period.

It is possible, therefore, that as businesses ramp up operations and prepare facilities for opening up for work, that they face a heightened risk of legionella exposure if a legionella risk mitigation plan has not been implemented. Reopening businesses therefore have to act to evaluate this risk and the Government guidance is designed to assist with this.

During non-occupancy or reduced usage, organisations can keep water temperatures outside the temperature range of 20-50°C if possible. This will help prevent bacteria forming and growing. Also, a frequent turnover of water in tanks, ideally once every 24 hours, reduces possible stagnation and ensures water is moving through pipework sufficiently. If this is not possible, then the legionella responsible person should carry out a full legionella risk assessment to establish what additional measures could be adopted prior to the business re-opening. This could involve additional flushing and disinfecting as part of a re-commissioning process, and possibly using the services of a water hygiene specialist.

Government guidance on water hygiene for buildings closed or unoccupied

Responsibilities to have these factors monitored and action plans put in place prior to returning to normal occupancy are outlined in the guidance. If no legionella risk mitigation plan was adopted prior to shutdown, it requires a full legionella risk assessment now to establish how possible exposure can be reduced and how occupancy and risk can be managed.

The Government guidance explains where immediate action is required by employers, facilities managers and the legionella responsible person. This is based on occupancy levels, the size and complexity of the water system, the findings of the legionella risk assessment and any legionella risk mitigation plan. In terms of formal reopening plans, building users are advised not to drink any water from water systems, and to report any incidents of discolouration, or changes in taste or smell. The guidance lays down the specific action required in such cases.

Robinsons Facilities Services have acted on behalf of many organisations as the legionella responsible person and the water hygiene specialist. We are able to advise on what monitoring is required as premises start to plan towards reopening, we can also carry out legionella risk assessments and put together a risk mitigation plan. This will involve a full site survey and provide assistance on how water systems are prepared for full occupancy and how employees are trained and informed on new procedures and possible risks of exposure.

Get in touch today and we can help you with the new Government guidance and assist in tackling your water hygiene issues and getting your premises and business back open.

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