The Danger’s in the Pipework
Ireland’s largest independent security and facilities management company is warning companies emerging from Covid-19 to beware the threat of Legionnaires’ Disease.
As Northern Ireland’s tourism and hospitality sector sets its sights on a July 3 reopening recently announced by the province’s governing Stormont Executive, Mercury Security & Facilities Management, which operates from locations in County Antrim, Dublin, Limerick and London, is reminding companies to be extra vigilant about a danger that is commonly associated with stagnant water systems.
With the government of the Republic of Ireland having already given the green light for a June 29 opening, a big week is in store for hotels, bars, restaurants and cafes across the island.
Earlier this year, a Cork woman received an apology and an undisclosed settlement from a five-star Kerry hotel after contracting Legionnaires’ Disease from a spa and being hospitalised for 54 days (three of which were spent under a hospital-induced coma). Her solicitor said she was lucky to be alive but will have to live with the consequences of contracting the disease for the rest of her life.
Mercury CEO, Frank Cullen, has welcomed the reopening announcement from First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neil, but says: “We all must be careful and ensure that proper procedures and ‘fit for purpose’ safety solutions are in place as we open our doors and go forward. This includes the very serious threat of Legionella and Legionnaires’ Disease.
“If you are re-opening your building after a prolonged period of inactivity, you will need to consider not only the impact of COVID-19 on the health and safety of your employees and customers, but also the increased risk of Legionnaires’ Disease due to water system stagnation.
“You need to ensure that your water system is safe to use after a lengthy shutdown to minimize the risk of Legionnaires’ Disease and other diseases associated with water, and this is not solved by simply running your water taps.
“As part of our efforts to help businesses get back to work, we’ve been working with clients across Ireland and the UK to put together a bespoke Legionella risk management plan and make sure that they comply with Government and health authority guidelines on a safe return and, importantly, staying safe going forward. This compliance is also very important for your insurance cover as well.”
What is Legionnaires’ Disease?
Legionnaires’ disease is the most serious form of Legionellosis, a collective term applied to a group of diseases that includes Pontiac fever and Lochgoilhead. Like the others, it is caused by legionella bacteria, and the species, L. pneumophila, in particular (which is classified as a ‘Gram negative’ bacteria under an ink staining classification developed by Danish bacteriologist, Hans Christian Gram).
Critically, Legionnaires’ disease presents as a potentially fatal form of pneumonia which can be fatal for the over 45s, anyone with an autoimmune disease, heavy drinkers, people with kidney disease, diabetics, and smokers or other people who suffer from chronic respiratory, lung and heart disease.
Stagnant or standing water in an inactive plumbing system can increase the risk for growth and spread of Legionella and other biofilm-associated bacteria therefore increasing the risks of Legionnaires’ Disease. When water is stagnant, hot water temperatures can decrease to 77–108° Fahrenheit (25–42° Centigrade), which provides a favourable environment for the growth of Legionella bacteria.
Properties most at risk include unoccupied commercial buildings, retail environments, public bars, clubs and restaurants, hotels, offices and schools, and public swimming pools.
To minimise risk of Legionnaires’ Disease, competent facility services providers will undertake a risk assessment to identify potential hazards and ensure all water outlets, thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs), and calorifiers are clean and operating at temperatures within their guidelines.
Water samples are typically taken and tested for potentially high bacterial growth counts to establish whether cold water storage tanks, and break tanks, might need draining down, disinfecting and flushing through.
Shower heads, ice makers, toilets and water taps also need to be cleaned and disinfected with appropriate procedures and measures to prepare them for future use.
In common with other facility services providers operating during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, Mercury is offering deep cleaning and thermal visitor management services to its clients in anticipation of reopening.
Less commonly, the company has added established protocols for protecting building users from Legionellosis to Covid-security provisions in its Intelocate client workflow management platform.