If you are reopening your premises for the first time since the lockdown, you need to be mindful of the risks of Legionnaires' Disease. Let's take a look at what Legionnaires' Disease is and how you can prevent it from being a risk to your employees.
What is Legionnaires' Disease? - Sometimes called Legionella, Legionnaires' Disease is a waterborne bacterial infection. It is caused by breathing in water droplets from a water supply that has been allowed to stagnate. Although the disease is rarely fatal, it can cause a range of serious symptoms. These include high temperatures, coughs, muscular aches and, in extreme cases, pneumonia. A course of antibiotics is usually sufficient to treat Legionella, but some people can suffer long term effects that are much harder to cure. The disease is especially dangerous for people with underlying respiratory conditions, or those who have already contracted COVID-19.
Why is Legionella a risk for returning employees? - The bacteria that cause Legionnaires' Disease tend to thrive in water that has been left standing for long periods of time. Unused toilets and sinks are the perfect breeding ground for the disease. Usually, when a building is going to be unoccupied for a prolonged period, the owner will take steps to prevent Legionella. These can include periodically flushing the toilets and running the taps. However, since many premises were forced to close at short notice, it is unlikely that these measures were put in place.
What are my duties as an employer? -Although there are no specific laws covering the prevention of Legionnaires' Disease, employers still have a duty to keep their employees safe. The Health and Safety Executive, the government agency responsible for employee welfare, has published a set of guidelines for employers. It states that either the employer or a contractor should carry out necessary safety checks before reopening. This is especially important if you are reinstating a water supply or turning an air conditioner back on after a long spell of inactivity.
Employers with more than five employees should take note of any staff members who may be especially vulnerable to Legionella, along with the precautions they are taking to protect them. It is also important to remember that Legionnaires' Disease and COVID-19 share many of the same symptoms, and so taking steps to prevent Legionnaires' in the workplace also reduces the risk of a Coronavirus false alarm.