With COVID-19 restrictions set to ease in the coming days, we will be seeing restaurants, cafes and pubs opening their doors to the public.
The “new normal” has fundamentally shifted the way we live and work, and the experience at your favourite pub definitely would not be the same even though pub culture forms an integral part of Irish life. Apart from COVID-19, the businesses operating in hospitality need to be extra cautious of the hidden risks lurking in their water systems.
As the buildings were forced to close to due lockdown, lack of use of water systems has increased the risks of legionella.
Employers and anyone in control of premises that use purpose-built water systems have a responsibility to control the risks of exposure to legionella. There is a heightened risk because there will be an increased number of people who are susceptible owing to a compromised respiratory system during or after having coronavirus.
In this blog, we discover how legionella bacteria affects restaurants and pubs, and how these businesses can stay prepared to mitigate this risk.
Legionella is a bacterium that grows in water systems. It can infect people who breathe in contaminated water droplets, resulting in a potentially fatal respiratory illness called Legionnaires Disease.
An individual can catch Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially fatal illness, by breathing in small droplets of water containing the bacteria, usually when bacteria has got into the water supply.
The main risk areas that contribute to restaurants, pubs and chains being exposed to legionnaires disease include public-facing water systems such as toilets and wash facilities.
Lack of use of a water system, whether a building has been closed or at limited capacity, can cause water stagnation, which increases the risks of Legionnaires’ disease. Where stagnation occurs or water use is low, cold water temperatures can increase significantly and as a result, this provides an ideal temperature for legionella bacteria to proliferate.
Temperatures ranging between 20°C and 45°C provide optimal conditions for rapid legionella growth. If the bacteria are allowed to remain in the water at this temperature range, they can quickly colonize and increase the risk of infection.
Over time, stagnation may also lead to biofilm formation, which provides nutrients to legionella and acts as a protective layer making biocides ineffective.
Whilst businesses have been in this prolonged period of closure or limited use, it is important to recognise that the health and safety responsibilities of employers still remain.
It is the responsibility of the duty holder or those in control of the premises to ensure the health and safety of their employees, guests, customers, or any others who may get affected. This includes taking suitable precautions to prevent, manage and control the risk of exposure to legionella.
In Ireland, under Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (Chapter 3) there is a legal obligation on employers to carry out a risk assessment in relation to Legionella prevention and to maintain an effective control regime. Failure to comply with the legislation can result in huge fines.
Even if no outbreak has occurred, prosecution can still be considered where a water system that poses a risk has been found; a suitable and sufficient risk assessment has not been carried out; or the necessary precautions/monitoring to control the risks have not been taken in accordance with the HPSC National Guidelines for the Control of Legionellosis in Ireland,2009.
If you are an employer, or someone in control of premises, including landlords, you must have a person in place that understands the health risks associated with legionella.
No matter how big or small your business is, or how complex or simple your building water systems are, it is vital to make sure Legionella bacteria are not given a chance to multiply and spread – the consequences can be very serious.
The process of getting rid of the legionella risks in your water systems should always start with a legionella risk assessment.
A legionella risk assessment will highlight any potential dangers and guide you on the steps that should be taken to reduce those risks to keep people safe.
Legionella grows best within a certain temperature range (20°C-45°C). To keep water outside the range for Legionella growth, it is important to keep cold water cold and keep hot water hot.
Preventing water stagnation is critical to controlling risks associated with legionella. When water does not flow well, the resulting areas of stagnation encourage biofilm growth, reduce water temperatures to levels that allow Legionella to grow, and reduce levels of disinfectant.
It is important to understand the flow of water in your building to identify areas of risk where water may become stagnant.
Maintaining and operating your building’s equipment effectively will help prevent biofilm, organic debris, and corrosion from contaminating your water system; all of these provide habitat and nutrients for Legionella.
As per HSE, legionnaires diseases is preventable. It is often the poor management of legionella that leads to an increased risk of an outbreak.
To keep customers and staff safe from legionella bacteria, all businesses operating in the hospitality sector must take steps to manage the risks of exposure to legionella.
And this starts with a legionella risk assessment. In most cases, these businesses would likely already be having a risk assessment, which can be reviewed.
The legionella risk assessment:
A legionella risk assessment will also include the review of your current records and a check of your previous assessments to ensure that all recommendations of remedial work or maintenance have been acted upon.
It is the responsibility of the duty holder to ensure a risk assessment is in place and reviewed periodically but it must be undertaken by a competent person.
Whilst businesses have been in a prolonged period of closure or limited use, it is important to recognise that the health and safety responsibilities of employers remain.
To comply with health and safety laws, restaurants and pubs must continue to take steps to manage the risks of exposure to legionella.
Celtic Water Solutions is a leading water hygiene service provider in Ireland offering a complete range of services including legionella testing, risk assessment, any remedial works needed, ongoing monitoring for tasks, and water tank cleaning.
Our risk assessments have been developed in accordance with the guidelines and recommended practices issued by the HPSC’s National Guidelines for Control of Legionellosis in Ireland and UK HSE’s ACOP L8.
For absolute peace of mind in ensuring water safety, talk to the experts.