Legionella is a common form of bacteria found in the UK, but under the right kind of circumstances it can develop in unwanted places, and affect people quite badly. It is a form of pneumonia, most commonly called 'Legionnaires Disease' after a troop of the American Legion were almost all killed by one bout in the late 1970s.
Where Does It Grow?
As with many forms of bacteria it takes quite specific conditions in order to grow, and unfortunately one of these is in most large sized offices. Many bacteria require at temperature of around 30-35 degrees centigrade to develop, and the water based legionella loves to grow in industrial heating and cooling systems. It is then spread around in tiny water droplets by cooling towers and potentially inhaled by workers. Sadly, the effects of this are still often seen today, and in 2002, 8 people died and nearly 200 were made ill by an outbreak in an art gallery. Thankfully, modern technology has allowed us to control this vicious bacterium, and workplaces can easily be made safe through the use of chemicals and specialist knowlegde.
How Is It Remedied?
This is generally done by specialist legionella control companies who will enter a workplace, assess the risk of infection from the heating and cooling systems and then recommend remedies. These usually come in the form of specialist chemicals, usually biocides, that are used to clean all of the ducts in the building. Once this is done it needs to be left to work for at least 24 hours before use, then repeated annually at least. The company may also look into redesigning the internal heating/cooling systems if there is a particularly large risk from a certain area, but with the amount of publicity it has received recently these hotspots are usually eliminated at the design stage.
What Can You Do?
As far as employees go there is very little that they can do personally to diminish the risk of contraction; as it's mainly up to the upkeep of the internal heating and cooling systems. This is now a mandatory part of Health and Safety laws in the UK, and not something that should be taken lightly. Wherever there is water kept at higher temperatures there is the risk of legionella, even if this is unintentional. It has been known to have bred in unexpected places where water condensed, then ran down and pooled in a warm place. It's far better to be safe than sorry, and could be incredibly damaging to your company, so have your workplace checked out today.