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Looking after business premises

Legionella and the coronavirus outbreak – the next challenge

Since the government is now advising home working and numerous buildings will be unoccupied for a lengthy period; it is timely to remind you of the Legionella risks in vacant properties where water may be allowed to stagnate within water systems.

Legionnaires disease is a type of pneumonia which can cause serious illness in people who are susceptible. This is mainly people over 50 years old, smokers, and those with underlying health conditions. In Europe approximately one in 10 of those who are exposed to Legionella and become ill, will die. Legionnaires disease is caused by the growth of Legionella bacteria which can grow in buildings’ water systems which are not adequately managed.

Who is this guidance for?

Whilst this guidance is aimed at hotels, campsites, schools and similar premises, it is relevant to all public, residential, food businesses and office buildings with similar water systems. It is very important that during this pandemic, you manage and keep all water systems safe while premises are closed or during partial shutdowns for the future health and safety of anyone entering the premises. The procedures you follow now will have an impact on how soon you can reopen without causing harm to health.

Under general health and safety law, as an employer or person in control of a premises (e.g. a landlord), you have health and safety duties and need to take suitable precautions to prevent or control the risk of exposure to Legionella.

What should you do?

During this emergency we are asking you to take some simple steps during the time of business closure to ensure that on returning to work your staff, customers and any visitors are not affected by Legionella. These simple steps are as follows:

  1. As a general principle, water outlets on hot and cold water systems should be used at least once a week to maintain a degree of water flow and to minimise the chances of stagnation which may lead to the growth of Legionella bacteria. This means gently running the hot and cold water taps for all sinks, baths, showers and other water outlets for at least two minutes every week.
  2. Flush all WC cisterns and urinals on a regular basis, at least weekly.
  3. Where premises remain vacant for long periods, consideration should be given to implementing a suitable flushing regime (as above) or other measures such as draining the system. Check the Health and Safety Executive's guidance to legionella. This guidance also applies to workplaces which become less occupied (such as offices, catering premises, schools, hotels etc).
  4. In addition, consideration is required of other water systems that are no longer in use, such as leisure, sports and swimming and spa pool facilities. We suggest that for these facilities, you should follow the procedures described in the Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group Code of Practice.

Here to help you

We are on hand to support you with advice and guidance, so please do not hesitate to contact the Environmental Health Department on 01622 602450 if you need any advice or support.

Further information

Guidance has also been produced by the European Society for Clinical Microbiology and Infectious disease on managing Legionella in building water systems during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Managing legionella in water systems

Legionella control

HSE legionnaires