Hull Royal Infirmary Reports Legionella During Pandemic

Legionella Bacterium Found In Hospital Water Systems

Yorkshire hospital discovers legionella in water systems. What is this bacterium and how do you mitigate against the risks?

Hull Royal Infirmary is the latest building to detect the deadly legionella bacterium, as a contaminated water supply has been located in a hot water system on the 13th floor of the hospital. Paediatric patients being treated on this ward were transferred to another area of the hospital, whilst cleaning of the water tanks and installation of new equipment took place. The ward was expected to reopen by the end of October, 2020.

The risk of legionella being present in your water systems has increased during the pandemic, as commercial buildings in particular have been left unoccupied for months. The stagnant conditions that have built up in water systems have allowed legionella to thrive, posing a considerable health risk to anyone in the vicinity.

The Risks Of Legionella

Legionella is a dangerous bacterium which can cause Legionnaire’s Disease, a serious respiratory illness which is a more severe form of pneumonia. If located in contaminated water supplies, anyone who breathes in a mist or vapour from the water system can inhale this deadly bacterium and become seriously ill. The prevention and detection of legionella is therefore essential in safeguarding all occupants of a building, and is a landlord health and safety obligation.

Risk Assessment

All landlords must begin by conducting risk assessments to ensure that legionella responsibilities are being met. Once risks are identified, then they can determine the necessary control measures to put in place and one of these will be deciding on how frequently future risk assessments should be carried out.

Testing Your Water Supply

In most cases, a risk assessment should begin with legionella testing of the water systems. This will involve taking water samples from areas of the systems that are considered to be at the highest risk. Legionella is known to thrive in stagnant water, and in temperatures between 20C and 50C. Therefore, cold water tanks should be kept below 20 degrees and hot water should be distributed at temperatures higher than 50 degrees. By sticking to these temperatures, you’ll be creating an environment which is hostile to legionella which will help to prevent water systems from becoming contaminated.

Specialist Legionella Cleaning

In the case of a positive test, specialist cleaning of water systems should be carried out, which may require new equipment to be installed or repaired as part of the operation. Building owners or managers should always be advised by the specialists who will adhere to strict COSHH regulations to ensure compliance. It’s also essential to keep records of assessments, testing, maintenance and cleaning that is carried out as part of control measures.

Although an increase in legionella cases are being reported in buildings that closed fully during lockdown, which allowed water systems to stagnate, this wasn’t the case with the Hull Royal Infirmary which has been in constant use during the pandemic. This serves as a reminder that all building owners or managers need to take their health and safety responsibilities seriously with regards to legionella. This can be achieved by carrying out the necessary risk assessments and testing to ensure that this legionella bacterium is not allowed to thrive.