One year on from the Legionnaires’ outbreaks in both Edinburgh and Stoke-on-Trent it’s clear that the disease is still an issue in the UK. Although not as common as it once was, it’s vital that facilities and building managers do not become complacent when it comes to managing their building’s water systems, which can be perfect breeding grounds for the bacteria.
Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia, caused by the bacteria Legionella, which lives naturally in all water systems in small, diluted quantities. However, the bacteria thrives in water at a temperature between 20-45°C and which has little or no flow. It can be particularly prevalent in commercial and public buildings.
Legionnaires is caught when water droplets containing the bacteria are inhaled as fine water vapour (such as a fine mist), which enables it to travel deep into the lungs. The illness starts with flu-like symptoms and in severe forms then develops into pneumonia, which can prove fatal to one in ten patients.
One area which is commonly overlooked in many businesses is the fixed air conditioning system. Air con units which use water (as opposed to cooling fluid) to cool air, emit water vapour in their cooling/heating process. Until it is emitted, this water is contained within a sealed unit so it is vital that relevant components are regularly checked and cleaned if necessary, to avoid any Legionella development.
With budgets being squeezed, it is quite likely that air conditioning systems are not being serviced or cleaned as regularly as they need to be, especially in some less regulated industries or settings. These longer gaps between industrial maintenance can give Legionella the chance to take hold.
Should cleaning be required, temporary or portable air conditioners can be hired, to ensure that the workplace temperature is maintained and therefore productivity doesn’t drop whilst a reputable professional air conditioning services contractor undertakes the work
Employers have a duty of care to provide a clean and healthy place to work, which means it is vital that managers do not become complacent: carrying out regular maintenance of water-cooled systems is imperative. As demonstrated by last years’ outbreaks, Legionella poses a very clear threat. In todays ‘blame culture’ society, the implications of negligence could be profound – both financially and reputationally.