As we progress into something that looks a bit more like normality, many public buildings and workplaces are awakening from a long period of dormancy. There’s plenty to get ready: new workspace layouts to organise, new work-from-home timetables, and so on. However, it isn’t just about renovating HR; there’s plenty to address in terms of the fabric of the building.
This is because when it comes to building management, the new coronavirus isn’t the only thing we have to worry about. As health and safety become of increasing concern in the wake of the pandemic, we have to pay careful attention to hygiene in public buildings. A pathogen of particular concern is an old enemy and one that’s highly problematic if an HVAC system has been left unused for an extended period: Legionnaires’ disease.
What is Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires’ disease is a lung infection caused by a genus of bacteria called Legionella. They’re fairly ubiquitous; in fact, you can find them in rivers, lakes and reservoirs up and down the country. However, they can also propagate in man-made water systems like cooling towers, swimming pools, water systems and HVAC equipment.
Although many don’t affect humans, Legionella pneumophila can cause serious illness. Legionnaires’ disease manifests as atypical pneumonia. Early symptoms are aching muscles, lethargy and headaches, followed by a dry cough and fever. Later patients may also feel delirious and suffer stomach problems. It can even cause death if left untreated or in cases where patients are immunosuppressed.
These bacteria propagate if water is left to stagnate between 20 and 45 degrees centigrade, for instance, in pipes or cisterns. They can also collect on rubber or fibres in washers and seals. The bacteria is spread when people inhale particles released into the air by the contaminated water system in the form of an aerosol.
What can you do to prevent Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires’ disease is a real risk for building managers, even outside of the context of lockdown lifting. In order to prevent these dangerous bacteria from propagating, it is essential that HVAC systems are regularly inspected by a qualified engineer. This engineer will evaluate and clean the system according to official guidance:
- Ensure cold and hot water storage systems are maintained outside of the Legionella propagation zone of 20-45 degrees.
- Flush the system through and provide training to staff on how to perform this action weekly, as well as dismantling and descaling removable parts.
- Clean, drain and disinfect calorifiers, cold water tanks and water treatment accessories.
- Directly test for Legionella and advise on the use of biocides and pH level monitoring, particularly in the case of public swimming pools and spas.
- Provide a complete report and risk assessment on the state of the system.
An essential public health responsibility
Protecting building occupants from the threat of Legionnaires’ disease is crucial. Building managers have a legal and moral obligation to ensure their systems are hygienic. This is more important than ever as buildings return to full occupancy after a long year of lockdowns.
The best way to make sure your systems are up to scratch is to get the right consultancy. An experienced HVAC engineer will thoroughly inspect the system and provide the training your team needs to keep up regular maintenance. David J. Higgins can provide this expertise – get in touch to find out more.