Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water’ was the tagline for Jaws 2. Used to promote the highly-anticipated movie sequel, it might very well be applicable to a real-life drama unfolding over the coming months. As lockdown restrictions are eased and businesses implement plans for a return to work, another potentially fatal bug is set to strike.
With attention focused on COVID-19, there has been an opportunity for micro-organisms like Legionella to cause havoc in water systems that have been left stagnant. Creating the serious and potentially life-threatening Legionnaires’ disease, a form of atypical pneumonia, it has led the Association of Plumbers and Heating Contractors Ireland (APCHI) to issue a very vocal warning.
APHCI Chairman, Sean Giffney, said: “The APHCI is warning employers to ensure that back to work procedures include taking measures in advance of opening premises to employees and the public.
“Due to the current emergency situation, many non-essential businesses including hotels, bars, swimming pools, gyms and leisure facilities, retail outlets offices, dental clinics, factories, schools, colleges and training centres closed at short notice. It is vital that before employees return to work, these businesses take the correct actions and ensure that all systems in their buildings are thoroughly flushed, cleaned and disinfected.”
Legionnaires disease can be caught by breathing in tiny water droplets or contaminated particles left after the water has evaporated. Although not contagious, it, like the Coronavirus, can have serious consequences for the elderly or those with underlying health conditions. The simple act of turning on a tap or shower is enough to release the contamination, which can then remain airborne for up to 30 minutes. The bacteria flourishes at temperatures between 20 and 45 degrees centigrade, using impurities in the water like sludge, limescale and rust as a food source. Legionella is also no respecter of size and scale, the micro-organisms growing in everything from a small basin to large commercial air conditioning.
“These systems include but are not limited to heating, plumbing, drains, coolers, humidifiers, air-conditioning, fridges, catering equipment, garden hoses and sprinklers,” added Sean Giffney.
“Common risk points include bath, shower, basin and sink outlets, spas, hot tubs/whirlpool baths – but all systems should be risk accessed and dealt with appropriately. Members of the Association Plumbing and Heating Contractors Ireland along with their colleagues in the Heating and Plumbing Association of Ireland are concerned about the potential health risk to customers and staff are available to assist businesses big and small to safely recommission all systems.”