Legionnaire’s disease is a serious lung infection that is on the rise in the U.S. It occurs when someone inhales water droplets contaminated with Legionella bacteria. The vast majority of Legionnaire’s outbreaks occur when cooling water systems in commercial buildings are not properly sanitized and cleaned. People inside the building inhale contaminated droplets from the building’s systems and become sick with a pneumonia-like illness that can be life-threatening.
Industrial water systems provide a perfect environment for bacteria like Legionella to grow and spread. Many times, these outbreaks occur not because of negligence – but because the building’s management simply didn’t know their building was at risk, and therefore didn’t have the necessary systems in place to prevent it.
Cooling Water Systems and Legionnaire’s
As a facility manager, you’re dealing with every facet of your building’s safety and efficiency on a daily basis. Water management is just one portion of your daily responsibilities. Devoting considerable time and resources to preventing Legionella bacteria can be challenging – or nearly impossible – when there are so many other items that need your attention.
Fortunately, there is a process that empowers you to keep people safe and your company in compliance with laws and regulations on water system management. The first step is to figure out whether your building could be at risk for Legionella bacteria.
Could My Building be at Risk for Legionnaire’s?
Legionella water management programs are now an industry standard for large buildings in the United States. Check out the ASHRAE webpage if you want all the legal details of this.
But you don’t need to dive into the legal details yourself. Let’s start with whether your building needs to follow this ASHRAE standard. You need a water management program for your hot and cold water distribution systems if your building:
- Is a healthcare facility that treats people with chronic or serious medical problems and/or people with weakened immune systems
- Houses people older than 65
- Has multiple units and one central hot water system
- Has more than 10 floors (including basement)
Specific devices that need their own water management program include:
- Cooling towers
- Hot tubs or spas that are not drained after each use
- Decorative water structures, such as fountains
- Centrally-installed humidifiers, atomizers, misters, or air washers
This information is also available in the CDC’s Toolkit, Developing a Water Management Program to Reduce Legionella Growth and Spread in Buildings.
A Note About Healthcare Facilities and Legionella
If you manage a building that provides healthcare services, you may have some additional responsibility in preventing and detecting Legionella. This bacteria is of special concern to healthcare facilities because:
- People who use or reside in their buildings are more susceptible to Legionnaire’s disease. This includes older adults, people with health conditions, smokers, and those with weakened immune systems.
- Medicare requires that healthcare facilities have water management policies and procedures in place that reduce the risk of Legionella and other opportunistic pathogens in their building water systems. If they don’t have appropriate measures in place, they risk a non-compliance citation from CMS.
My Building is at Risk for Legionella – Now What?
Once you know whether your building or devices are at risk for Legionella, the next step is to implement a plan that effectively mitigates the risk of Legionella and detects it before it can cause harm.
Obviously, you need people to implement your water management plan. These can be people you have on site who have expertise and bandwidth to do this, or you can implement an offsite team. If you choose an offsite water management company, you’ll need one that has the capability to provide a customized program that gives you results now and continues to deliver down the road.
Legionella Bacteria Prevention for Industrial Water Systems
Legionella outbreaks due to industrial water systems are preventable. But prevention is not a simple process. It requires regular, meticulous cleaning and disinfection of your building’s water cooling system today, and an ongoing management plan that keeps the systems clean and functioning properly in the future.
The right water management plan should not only detect and prevent Legionella, but should ensure your water systems are efficient and functioning at their optimal level to prevent waste and loss. Water management is not a “one-and-done” process, but requires ongoing oversight, tweaking, and accountability to keep your water systems running as they should.
Want to learn more about creating a Legionella management plan?