Legionella Control for Architects, Engineers & Construction Professionals
This water safety article looks at the control of legionella risks in new construction projects, paying particular attention to the role of the architect, building services engineers and construction professionals in mitigating water systems risk during the design and construction stages, and beyond.
The article highlights the dangers posed by Legionella bacteria in building water systems, the role of the water safety specialist, how good design can mitigate operational water safety risks, and the importance of legionella training for construction design and engineering professionals.
Meeting water safety design standards
Planning the design of any new construction project, be it a new build, extension or refurbishment is a complex process. It can take many months before the first hole is dug or the first brick is laid.
While it’s vital to ensure every part of a new building project meets all latest building and engineering standards at the initial design stage, the water systems and ensuring they are safe to use is of particular interest to us here.
Controlling legionella in construction projects
Legionella bacteria occurs naturally in many water sources around us, such as rivers, lakes and other watercourses. It can also contaminate manmade water systems and can lead to Legionnaires’ disease, a serious, potentially fatal form of pneumonia.
It’s important to remember that in the UK, the primary safety regulator the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) consider Legionellosis (Legionnaires’ disease) to be a preventable disease through the application of good water safety management practices. This means that if a business is responsible for designing, installing or operating a water system it must ensure it is safe to use.
In terms of water safety, one of the biggest considerations for architects, building services engineers, contractors and property managers is the control of Legionella bacteria. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issue specific approved codes of practice and guidance that set out their expectations with regard to the control of legionella. Key documentation is this area include:
- Health & Safety Executive: Approved Code of Practice ACOP L8 – Legionnaires’ disease. The control of legionella bacteria in water systems – the essential guide to complying with current legionella legislation
- Health & Safety Executive: HSG274: Technical guidance Parts 1, 2 & 3 – this covers legionella control in evaporative cooling systems, hot and cold water systems, and other systems
- Department of Health and Social Care: Health Technical Memorandum HTM 04-01: Safe water in healthcare premises – this document covers all steps involved in providing safe water in healthcare premises, from design to operation
Whilst legionella has the ability to colonise a manmade water system of any size or type, we often encounter situations where an old or complex water system has fallen victim to raised levels of bacteria in the water, and this can be a significant cause for concern. Certainly, dead legs, disused or infrequently used taps, shower heads, and other water outlets can pose a significant health risk. So too, can older water tanks and pipework.
So, surely a building refurbishment or new construction project can avoid all these potential problems, since everything going into the build is brand new. And yes, that is the case. If the project is adequately designed, planned and executed, we can expect the water systems to be safe from the dangers of legionella and ready for use.
Eliminating legionella risk at the engineering design stage
Of course, taking care of water safety all sounds so simple when we explain it here. However, no two building projects are going to be identical. A large apartment building will differ from a private house built for a family. A new hospital wing or care home would also have vastly different needs when compared to a modern office building, a distribution warehouse or a large shopping centre.
Hence why it is vital for the client to have water safety specialists in place to make sure the water systems that will be installed in the building are fit for purpose, meeting all legionella and water safety standards, both at the time of construction and for the long term.
As we’ve seen here, the level and complexity of the water services required as part of a construction project will vary depending on the use of the proposed building. While architects, building services engineers, contractors and developers know how to construct a building, those in the client’s water safety team are going to have far more knowledge and expertise on issues of legionella control and long term water safety.
This points to the importance of everyone talking to each other, checking progress, and understanding how to avoid potential issues that could arise. Even when a water system is newly installed, it can still cause issues and raise the level of risk for infection if proper steps aren’t taken to mitigate this.
The importance of legionella training for construction design and engineering professionals
Everyone involved in designing the water systems used in any new construction project or refurbishment should undertake recognised legionella training. It is important that competency in this area of water safety should be expected in all relevant parties. For example, the person responsible for designing the building water systems should understand and recognise where the legionella and other water safety risk factors may lie. Without this knowledge, gleaned via relevant training in legionella risks, it would be easy to design a water system that failed on several levels, both during the construction process and post practical completion/handover.
Safety is always the most important factor here. It can easily be resolved, and all relevant safety standards met if those designers, engineers and managers involved have the correct training.
In other cases, a basic legionella awareness course may be all that is required for some of those involved in the construction process. For example, someone installing pipework and other parts of the new water system should have this knowledge.
Armed with a greater understanding of legionella and water safety matters, they could spot potential issues before or during installation, and bring them to light. Without a greater level of understanding, they may go ahead regardless… and do what is asked of them, without realising it could be in breach of legionella standards and cause serious health and safety problems in the future.
Keeping building water systems safe and simple
Any water system used in a building should be designed and constructed so it is fit for purpose. This means it must be compliant with all regulatory standards and be robust enough to work well in that building. It must also be safe to use and no more complex than it needs to be to fulfil that purpose.
Complexity is an interesting issue because the more complex a water system is, the more likely it could be that legionella and other waterborne pathogens would have a chance to take hold. Even when the building comes into regular use, it’s a legal requirement to carry out regular tests and maintenance checks to ensure Legionella bacteria are kept at safe levels so as not to pose a risk to building users. In a straightforward water system, this is easier to do and less likely to result in increased health risks.
Designing-out legionella risks in buildings
Legionella bacteria is a fact of life that’s here to stay. It’s a bacterium that has the potential to cause serious ill health in those unlucky enough to encounter it. It occurs in the world around us, but can also make its way into manmade water systems, and this is where problems start to arise. If those responsible for designing and installing such systems are aware of the risks associated with Legionella bacteria, it becomes easier to avoid those risks in future – or at least to mitigate them to safe levels.
This “designing problems out” approach requires knowledge at every stage of the construction process, from building design to cutting the ribbon and beyond. Proper legionella training for all relevant personnel can make a huge difference to the safety of the water systems.
Remember, it is much harder (and costlier) to rectify problems once the water systems are installed than it is to make any required adjustments beforehand – whether these are at the design stage or during construction. If everyone in the design and construction team understand and recognise the roles they must play, it is far simpler to stay on top of any legionella risks that crop up in construction projects, be they new build, extensions or refurbishments.
Expert legionella risk management solutions
Legionella Control International is a world-leading legionella and water safety specialist. Our teams of experts support building design and construction professionals, and those responsible for workplace safety.
We will help you to protect your customers and others in meeting your health and safety obligations in this specialist area.
We deliver a range of specialist risk management solutions including risk assessment, design review, regulatory compliance auditing, specialist legionella training, water quality analysis and other services that help keep people safe.