How to Reduce Legionella Risk in Construction Projects
In this expert review the construction safety specialists at Legionella Control International highlight what can be done to reduce legionella risk across the construction sector to prevent Legionnaires disease on-site.
The review looks at evidence that reveals construction environments pose a higher risk from Legionnaires’ disease, what and where those risks are, who has responsibility for keeping people safe; and concludes by examining a tried-and-tested process for managing such risks in construction projects.
A version of this story dealing with legionella risk in construction projects appeared in Legionella Control International’s newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
Preventing Legionnaires’ disease in construction
Every construction project begins with a plan. From there, many stages need to be successfully navigated for the project to reach completion. Health and safety measures are certainly among the most important elements of any building project like this. It doesn’t matter whether the building is being demolished, constructed from scratch or whether an existing building is being extended or refurbished. In all cases, managing the risk posed by Legionella bacteria is crucial if you are to prevent Legionnaires’ disease.
The facts surrounding legionella risk in construction projects
In the USA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigated the sources of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks between 2000 and 2014. A little over one third of cases (35%) came from so-called ‘external changes’. Within this category, there were two major risk factors. Natural disasters accounted for a quarter of those sources, while construction work accounted for the remaining three quarters.
That’s a huge figure, and one that points to the importance of focusing on legionella as a real risk when planning construction projects of any size or kind. We may not always be able to predict and prevent legionella risks stemming from unexpected natural disasters, but we can certainly do a lot to prevent the legionella risks associated with building works.
Where are the legionella risks in construction work?
Construction is messy work. No matter how many health and safety procedures are implemented, you cannot expect any construction site to be clean. That much makes sense, and it also points to the potential for all kinds of unwanted materials to enter a water system.
Investigations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the USA revealed construction work accounted for over 25% of US based Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks …
Even when a building is being constructed from the ground up, and new water pipes are laid, the nature of building work means they may not remain clean for too long. This can create a situation where legionella is introduced into the existing water system and has time to colonise it and begin to spread through it. This can potentially occur long before the building work is finished and before anyone occupies the building.
The same risks occur whenever an existing building is extended or refurbished. In this case, existing water systems could be at risk of disuse for a matter of weeks or even months while the work takes place. As above, dirt and other debris could easily enter the water system, causing problems that are unseen until after the building work is completed.
Who is responsible for managing legionella risks during building work?
The individual contracted to take on the building work is responsible for making sure the risks caused by legionella are properly managed during the construction process. This applies regardless of the size of the project or whether it focuses on demolition, new buildings, extensions or renovations of older ones.
Everyone involved in the work should be aware of legionella risks. If a builder is unaware that such risks exist, they could end up working in such a way as to increase those risks. Everyone involved should be properly trained so they’re fully aware of the risks, where they exist, and how they can make sure they prevent those risks from occurring.
The whole process begins with a legionella risk assessment
Water safety is a key element in all construction projects, whether they’re breaking new ground or altering an existing building. A competent person with appropriate training should selected to create a legionella risk assessment before work begins. This risk assessment should identify all potential risk areas and consider ways that the risks can be removed, if possible. If this is not possible, ways of reducing the risks should be brought in.
This legionella risk assessment should also be revisited during different stages of the project. For example, the design stage is obviously very different to the stage where building work begins. Moving from one stage to the next can potentially identify different risk factors that should then be considered. This reduces the chances of any new water safety risks being missed.
The legionella assessment is the first of three steps to follow
According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, a three-step process should be followed to properly manage the risks from Legionella bacteria. Their 1. Assess, 2. Control, and 3. Review model was specifically designed to be used for managing risks during construction projects, along with those revolving around refurbishment works.
The risk assessment is a key part of the Assess process. Many standard risks are covered here, but there is a focus on potential risks created by building work too. Stagnant water in an unused system is a prime example, as a disused water system has the potential to let legionella and other dangerous bacteria thrive.
Following the first Assess stage, the Control stage considers how the risks identified in the previous stage can be mitigated. Risk removal is preferred, but where this isn’t possible, the focus should be on reducing the risks. For example, if various parts of the water system are not in use during the building work, regular flushing through of those parts of the system is required. It can also mean making sure individuals at greater risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease are identified and then protected as much as they can be.
Finally, the Review stage revolves around being alert to any potential Legionnaires’ outbreaks. These will hopefully not occur if the previous two stages are adequately covered. However, it is crucial to be aware of potential symptoms anyone might have, as it could identify an issue at the earliest possible stage.
Getting outside help to manage your on-site legionella risk
There are clear processes to follow and guidelines to read that give building contractors and others involved in the construction process support when minimising the risks from legionella that could be present in any building or renovation project.
Sometimes however, it may be prudent and indeed easier to call in the professionals to assist in managing that risk. Experts in legionella control, such as Legionella Control International will know where the risks are, and what to do about them, making sure nothing is missed. They can also help keep every building project within safe parameters.
While the responsibility for the control of legionella risks still lies with those in charge of the construction project, outside help can often identify risks and processes that someone else could easily have missed. It can be a good investment to consider when taking on a building or refurbishment project where legionella could pose an issue.
Leading legionella specialists to the construction sector
Legionella Control International are experienced legionella and water safety specialist supporting building contractors, safety professionals and others involved in the construction sector. We help protect workers, customers and others from the dangers caused by water systems, helping clients to meet their health and safety compliance obligations in this specialist area.
We are experienced water safety specialists and deliver full range of services including risk assessments for legionella and other waterborne pathogens. We also offer Authorising Engineer solutions, compliance auditing, water quality testing, City & Guilds accredited training and other health and safety risk management services that help keep staff and others safe.
If you would like to speak with one of our construction sector specialists about legionella risk management for your next project call us today on 0330 223 36 86 or contact us here …