Assess and Control The Risk of Legionella Before Reopening
HSE has issued a stark warning for business owners to assess for the risk of legionella before they reopen their doors in June.
The government has announced plans for schools and some places of business, including car retailers to reopen from June 1st, with other non-essential retailers expected to follow suit by June 15th. If your business has been closed for several weeks, then the Health and Safety Executive advises that these commercial premises might be at an increased risk of having developed legionella during the lockdown.
How Is Covid-19 Related To Legionella?
The coronavirus is not related to legionella bacteria at all. However, the impact of the social distancing measures that we’ve been following, including closing numerous workplaces, will have left water systems in a state of stagnation. This is precisely the type of environment that legionella bacterium thrives in. If contamination of your water systems has taken place during the lockdown, then HSE warns that all occupants of the building will be at risk once they’re present on the premises once again.
What Are The Risks of Legionella?
Legionella is a deadly bacterium present in some manmade or natural sources of water. In a manmade setting, it is often found within air conditioning units, water tanks or other heating and cooling systems. If the bacterium is inhaled, then it can cause a severe respiratory illness known as Legionnaire’s disease, which is similar to pneumonia.
Legionella Risk Assessment
HSE explains that employers, self-employed people and anyone in charge of a building, for example a landlord, all have duties to protect against the risks of legionella. The first step in providing protection is to carry out a detailed legionella risk assessment. You should already be undertaking and documenting regular risk assessments to mitigate the threat of this bacterium. However, those who are reopening their business following a period of closure or reduced occupancy should review their risk assessments to determine what, if anything, needs to be managed.
This must happen before resuming using air conditioning units or water systems.
Wearing Appropriate RPE
If you are personally in charge of checking your water systems for the presence of legionella, then it is essential that you are wearing the correct respiratory protective equipment to do so. Exposure to legionella can be fatal, so it is critical that you guard yourself from the possibility of inhaling any airborne particles which may be contaminated.
Typically, it would be advised that you should wear an FFP3 mask, but these are in short supply due to the needs of medical staff treating those with Covid-19 symptoms. As a result, HSE advises that you might use a reusable half or full-face mask with a P3 filter, a powered respirator with a hood class of at least TH2 or 3, or a full-fitting face mask with TM3.
It would be advisable for companies to turn to specialists to carry out their legionella risk assessment and to carry out any necessary professional control measures such as tank cleaning or repair work. Unfortunately, the severity of legionella means that if you’re not able to adequately assess and control the associated risks of this bacterium, then you should not reopen for business until you are able to commit to these steps. The HSE offers full guidance on this matter if you require further information.