Facility Dude

Legionnaires’ disease: What you can do to prevent it

By FacilityDude
Jul 25, 2014

Facilities Management, Safety and Risk Management, Industry News

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Legionnaires' disease: What you can do to prevent it Understanding the risks associated with Legionnaires' disease and how it can negatively affect your facility is important, and the next step is learning what can be done to prevent it. Caused by legionella bacteria that live in warm standing water, facility managers can direct efforts toward plumbing and maintenance as a means to protect buildings against infection. Though the bacteria can be tenacious and hide in a variety of places, there are some basic steps that can go a long way in prevention.

Manage personal risk

Legionnaires' disease is a bacterial infection caused by exposure to contaminated water, but even direct exposure to the bacteria doesn't necessarily result in contracting the disease. As the Mayo Clinic discussed, certain individuals are at greater risk for the illness, including smokers, those with suppressed immune systems and the elderly. Facility managers can alleviate the process by encouraging their tenants to manage their individual risk factors - the dangers of smoking can be highlighted, and seniors and those with immune system difficulties should be encouraged to steer clear of potential hazard areas.

Testing is key

Keeping on top of water testing efforts is one of the most important components of combating a spread of legionella bacteria. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration outlined a series of guidelines governing best practices for inspection of a facility's water system, involving extensive screening of incoming water, any on-site storage tanks and fixtures such as faucets and showerheads. OSHA highlighted the importance of inspecting not just major water fixtures but also some of the less common or smaller ones as well - fountains, ice machines and even hand-sized spray bottles have all been linked to legionella outbreaks in the past.

Proper maintenance practices

Good building maintenance is the strongest weapon facility managers can employ against Legionnaires' disease. The primary target you'll want to focus on is the plumbing, as the bacteria is water-borne and the disease is spread through contact with contaminated water. The U.K.'s National Health Service provided general tips to keep bacterial growth at bay. Water temperature can be a factor, and FMs are urged to make sure water tanks are kept out of the danger zone - between 20 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature at which bacteria are most prolific. For fixtures that must be kept within this temperature range, consider flushing them with hot water regularly to kill any bacteria that may have accumulated. This will also keep the water clean, as stagnant water that may have spawned bacteria will be replaced by cleaner, fresher water.

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