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The importance of preventative measures in water system compliance

In this blog, Spencer Culley, Managing Director of our environmental compliance business, discusses the importance of thorough assessments for Legionella control, establishing sound partnerships with outsourced companies and water compliance testing across all areas of work.

Despite technological advances and a greater shift of attention on building compliance recently, just this year alone there have already been multiple cases of breakouts of contamination and catastrophic system failures. Earlier this year, a spa in Bournemouth was linked to an outbreak of Legionella, following reports of serious infection from a number of customers. Although the spa owners and health officials acted quickly to rectify the problem, nine individuals were still hospitalised as a result of the outbreak.

In February this year, a woman died after contracting Legionella pneumonia from a hotel in Ludlow, with tests showing the deadly strain originated from a sink in her room. Even more recently, a Legionella outbreak made worldwide news headlines after one person was killed and more than 60 others infected in a hotel in Atlanta, U.S.

Those who are aware of the risks of Legionella may still see it as an issue consigned to the history books – a problem for only the oldest plumbing systems and building infrastructures. Yet outbreaks continue to occur, as these recent cases demonstrate. Legionella, which is typically found in water systems between 20-45°c, is a pathogenic group of bacteria that cause pneumonia-type illnesses, with the most serious being Legionnaires’ disease. Bacteria are found in low quantities in natural water sources such as rivers, lakes and reservoirs, but they may also be found in purpose-built water systems where conditions are often ideal for growth. While most who are exposed to Legionella will not become ill, it’s still vital to ensure water systems and their constituent parts are properly maintained. This can be achieved through working alongside a specialist partner in said area.

In response to these outbreaks, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has revised its own technical guidance document (HSG274 Part 2) to combat avoidable failings in Legionella control. The update states that principle plumbing loops should now be checked monthly, with subordinate and tertiary loops checked every three months at a minimum. Despite HSE’s revision, there are still many cases where loops within plumbing systems remain unchecked.

Recently, Churchill Environmental was called on to support the efforts of regional NHS property services teams to develop robust documentation that builds on the HSE’s recommendations. Further work found that the property services team were overlooking loops that were now subject to inspection as per HSE’s update. To combat these oversights, following recent revisions to the statutory guidance to identify additional monitoring points on the hot water return systems, we partnered with the NHS to advise on and draft an enhanced risk assessment and evaluation procedure. This now includes a more detailed survey of the hospital’s hot and cold water systems, as well as an asset identification and barcoding system, and meaningful schematic diagrams for staff to reference. These three components not only allow the NHS property team to oversee all parts of the plumbing network but also create a comprehensive audit trail. Our latest inspection at the hospital has found the hot water temperatures in the recirculating system to be within the required parameters to effectively control microbiological activity, keeping staff and, most importantly, patients well away from contaminated water, and demonstrating that outbreaks can be mitigated with the right procedures and processes in place.

Although recent examples of poor water system maintenance have focused around Legionella, it is crucial to remember that the management of building maintenance systems is not a stand-alone task. Being supported by a specialist provider to deliver a unified approach to building management will help not only to ensure compliance across specific areas of concern, like water management systems, but the entirety of your building infrastructure.