Legionella outbreaks in hotels across the UK are relatively rare, thought this is not due to the lack of risk and unfortunately, we have recently seen the tragic consequences when it does happen. Legionella multiplies and spreads through water systems so buildings with irregular use, high numbers of showers, and often pools and spas, are at significantly greater risk.
The UK has strict guidelines on Legionella control for good reason; in the worst case scenarios, failure to be compliant can have deadly consequences. The extensive task of managing legionella risk in hospitality buildings requires care and expertise. Technological solutions are making management both easier and more efficient.
In the past, failings have arisen in situations where hard to reach areas in a plumbing system have not been monitored properly. Churchill Environmental has found through experience that hot water return pipework often fails to meet acceptable standards, with sinks, service ducts, and pipes behind panels often falling short of the required temperatures to manage risk.
With a short generation time, Legionella bacteria are able to rapidly adapt to the environments that humans create. As such, we must develop ever more sophisticated ways of minimising risk. Legionella is managed in a number of ways.
Maintaining water temperatures above and below the levels in which the bacteria thrive is critical. In the UK, this means that cold water needs to be kept below 20 degrees Celsius and hot water above 50 degrees Celsius. If these temperatures cannot be achieved, other methods of control, often biocidal treatment, must be used.
Stagnation of water must be avoided and all water outlets including showers, baths, and sink taps should be flushed regularly. This means a minimum of weekly, in hotel rooms not in use and before they are occupied. The size and complexity of this task is greater still since there are a number of means of avoiding, testing for, and treating contamination. Many organisations choose to bring in specialists to help them achieve compliance.
Working with specialists
In the case that certain buildings or areas of pipework have significant periods of low or infrequent use, monitoring devices can detect remotely when there is low or absent water flow and flush the systems automatically. Remote temperature monitoring has also played an important role in Churchill’s assessment and management of client’s water systems.
Churchill has previously worked with clients to systematically design and create monitoring points throughout systems and install a central hub through which to collect real-time data. This has allowed them to identify specific problem areas of complex plumbing networks, which would have otherwise taken months to find. As such, problem areas can be identified, and issues remedied before Legionella growth results in system-wide contamination.
The speed and efficiency at which testing occurs is increasing in all forms. New technologies are now making on-site testing a possibility. Currently, when water sources are sampled for bacteria, the sample needs to be sent to a lab and results can take 10 – 15 days. Developments are making on-site testing in two hours the future of legionella testing.
Other developments reflect the ability to work flexibly and remotely. Smart water meters, for example, measure flow rate in systems and can be applied in high-risk areas. An example of a high-risk area might be in pipework in the ceiling above electrical or critical computer equipment.
Unusual flow rates can be detected by the smart meter and details delivered via an app. The same app can then be used to remotely shut off water flow, potentially saving hundreds or thousands of pounds of damage in the case of a leak.
Knowing where best to utilise these technologies, and which to adopt, becomes the only real concern for organisations. It is in understanding and implementing these technologies that specialists are offering real value.
As technology continues to develop, currently arduous processes will become near automatic. Technology is enabling management and compliance for whole buildings to be managed almost entirely remotely and from a single system. This makes achieving full compliance in closed water systems much easier. Considering the drastic impacts that failure to manage the risks can have, this is a development that no one can afford to overlook.