Unless you’ve worked in an industrial, heavily serviced office or healthcare environment it’s unlikely that you’ve come across the condition known as Legionnaires’ disease. But the truth is the illness can be contracted from contaminated water sources in many different environments, not just industrial buildings, offices or hospitals. So, let’s get an understanding of exactly what Legionnaires’ disease is.

What causes Legionnaires’ disease?

Legionella is the bacterium responsible for causing a family of diseases known collectively as Legionellosis. This includes Legionnaires’ disease, which is a serious form of pneumonia, and Pontiac fever, which is a less serious illness-causing flu-like symptoms.

Legionnaires’ disease

Legionnaires’ disease is a serious lung infection considered to be in the same family as pneumonia, and can, in the worst cases be fatal. Symptoms can initially present like those of a cold or flu – patients may suffer breathing difficulties, headaches, muscle pains and chills. The risk increases as you get older but some people are more likely to catch it, including men over the age of 45, smokers, people with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, or anyone with a compromised immune system.

Where does it come from?

Legionella bacteria is widespread in the natural environment commonly occurring in rivers, lakes and other water sources. The risks from the bacteria start to increase when water is contained and then distributed in man-made water systems, which can include cooling towers, hot and cold water systems, spa pools and similar systems. This is especially so if the water temperature in such systems falls into the range that encourages growth of the bacteria, which is around 20 to 45 degrees Celsius. The risks can be further increased if this water is then dispersed as a spray or aerosol, which can mean that the bacteria is transported in the air, and over long distances.

Things you can do to prevent legionella in your workplace

As a business owner you have a legal duty to ensure your workplace is safe from danger. To prevent the growth and proliferation of legionella you should think carefully about how you use water in your buildings and any processes carried out as part of your business. Cooling towers, pipework, water storage tanks and other equipment that uses water and that is allowed to become stagnant or is kept warm could create the ideal breeding ground for this dangerous bacterium.

As an employer it is essential that you protect the health and safety of your employees, visitors and other people who may be put at risk from your activities. UK law requires that businesses take suitable precautions to manage the risks from Legionella bacteria and Legionnaires’ disease in their workplace.

The starting point in this process would be to make an assessment of the risks and this would usually involve the completion a Legionella risk assessment checklist. Once the risks have been identified a plan or written scheme of control would be prepared and implemented by someone with suitable knowledge and training – called the responsible person. This scheme of control should set out what needs to be done to manage and control the risks from exposure to Legionella bacteria and so protect people from Legionnaires’ disease.

Legionella in the home

As a home owner it’s unlikely you will be at serious risk although the bacteria can contaminate water systems commonly found in the home so vigilance is required. Conditions that can increase the risks include low water flow or stagnant water conditions – this may happen if you’ve been away on holiday and not used your taps/showers for several days. If your cold water becomes warm, your hot water is not hot enough, or your water systems are dirty then the risks can also increase.

Testing for legionella

If you are concerned that your water may have become contaminated with legionella bacteria because it’s too warm or it’s been standing for a while, there are DIY legionella testing kits available for purchase. There are also various websites online such as legionellacontrol.com that can carry out specialist water testing for commercial or domestic premises to make sure there is no risk to your health.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 828 other subscribers.

Follow us on Twitter