5 key issues to consider about Legionella and care homes

Checking temperature on a calorifier

Legionnaires’ disease can cause serious illness and, in some cases, even death if it is not managed correctly.  It is contracted by breathing in droplets of air containing Legionella bacteria.  Legionella bacteria occurs naturally and enters the water system through the mains water supply.  Airborne water droplets are created by water systems such as showers, spa baths, hydrotherapy baths and hot and cold-water services such as spray taps.

While anyone could become infected there are some groups who are more susceptible, and these include the elderly and those with existing underlying health conditions.  Therefore, it is so important for Care Homes to act and put in place a robust management system and practical solutions to protect anyone in their care who may be at risk from the disease.

There are no known cases of Legionnaires’ disease from the natural environment, this is because it is only in man-made water systems where the conditions are right for the bacteria to proliferate.

Earlier this year the private care provider BUPA was fined £3m for failing to prevent and control an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease when very sadly a resident died. Click on the link below to read more: https://www.healthandsafetyatwork.com/legionnaires-disease/bupa-kenneth-ibbetson

Where to start?

The first action to take is a legionella risk assessment of the hot and cold-water systems to ensure a scheme is put in place to control the risk.  Temperature is the usual method of control with systems operated at the required temperatures to prevent legionella bacteria from growing.  Hot water must be stored at 60°c and distributed at 50°c or higher to all outlets.  Thermostatic mixer valves may need to be fitted at outlets to prevent scalding.  Cold water must be stored and distributed at 20°c.

Regular checks need to be carried out in accordance with the risk assessment, some of these checks can be carried out by your own trained site staff or alternatively you can choose an experienced water hygiene company to do these on your behalf.  Whichever option you choose a key factor for compliance is the management of the control scheme which includes correct record keeping.

Cold water storage tanks must be visually inspected at least every 6 months and cleaned as required. The temperature of stored water must be checked to ensure it is 20°c or less.  Showerheads and hoses must be cleaned and descaled quarterly.   Calorifiers (hot water cylinders) need to be drained and internally cleaned and inspected annually.

It is also important to reduce the possibility of stagnating water in a system, so a risk assessment will identify dead-legs in the pipework which will need to be removed.  Little used outlets which can include showers and taps must be flushed weekly or removed to prevent stagnation.

Electronic log book

Using a cloud-based log book is one of the best ways to keep on top of all the monitoring tasks which need to be performed.  Dantek has developed an easy to use cloud-based system which we provide for free to all our contract customers.  The system ensures all your data for legionella compliance is held in one place and can be reported on and scrutinised, so you know where any problems are and what you need to do to rectify them.  For a short demo of the system please email info@dantek.co.uk.

5 key points to consider

  1. Do you have an up to date legionella risk assessment and control scheme in place?
  2. Who is the competent person to manage the risks from legionella?
  3. Are your water systems kept clean, with correct temperature controls and no stagnant water?
  4. Are you frequently checking temperatures remain in line with the ACoPL8 HSE guidance?
  5. Do you have accurate records in place to show external agencies?