SNIPEF warns of Legionella threat

Trade association the Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation (SNIPEF) has warned of the dangers of Legionella infection as water systems are restarted in the post-COVID return to work.

Like COVID-19, which disproportionately struck the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, Legionellosis is particularly dangerous to those who are susceptible due to age, illness, immunosuppression or other risk factors, such as smoking, it stated.

With the Scottish Government easing restrictions on bingo halls and casinos as well a swimming pools and gyms, SNIPEF warned that comprehensive checks must be in place prior to any re-opening.

Martyn Raine, technical and skills manager at SNIPEF, said: “Water, as a risk, can often be overlooked. People are very conscious of the dangers of elements such as gas and carbon monoxide, but we have to remain aware that water can pose a real risk to health also. Legionella bacteria can be naturally present in many water sources and systems, and remains dormant below 20oC.

“During lockdown many water systems may not have been in full operation due to building closure. Water systems are designed to be used and operated and not to sit dormant for long periods, if the water system does not turnover there is a real risk of the water being exposed to conditions that may promote bacterial growth.

“It is extremely important to risk assess water systems as buildings open up for business again, but the fact is that it is important all the time and building owners have a duty of care to the occupants, from the private rented sector of homes to larger commercial type buildings such as an office building.

“SNIPEF member companies are used to carrying out risk assessments which check the water system for any feature, fault or condition that may contribute to an environment which promotes bacterial growth.

“A risk assessment will identify any control measures and monitoring required on such things storage vessels which could hold deposits of debris or sediments which can act as a catalyst and create a perfect breeding ground for the Legionella bacteria.

“Temperature checks are also essential since the bacteria thrives between 20oC and 50oC. Therefore, cold water temperatures must be below 20oC and hot water should be stored at 60oC, which kills off the bacteria.”

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