Young, fit, and healthy people are considered at low risk of succumbing to Legionnaires’ disease, but when the elderly and patients with weakened immune systems are exposed to water contaminated with Legionella through poorly maintained hot water systems, the risk becomes considerably higher. That’s why water checks in Care Homes are one strategy for controlling legionella risk.
Roughly 400,000 seniors in the United Kingdom live in either nursing homes or residential homes for the elderly. These facilities are subject to the guidelines set forth by the Health and Safety Executive with regards to the levels of Legionella found in water systems. The HSE document, HSG 274 sets out the levels which require immediate remedial action and intervention.
Specifically, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 states that those who are tasked with managing these establishments have a duty to evaluate the risks of Legionella that can affect the elderly residents.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 state that care homes should assess the risks posed by Legionella to both staff and residents. Then, when necessary, take the necessary precautions.
Water check in care homes revolves around two key points: controlling the risk of Legionella and preventing scalding.
The first step that needs to be undertaken in order to reduce the risk of Legionella in care homes is evaluating the design of the water system.
Specifically, the water system should have short pipework equipped with adequate insulation. Materials used in the system should not promote the growth of the bacteria, plus protective measures against contamination should be put into place.
In terms of operation, care home managers should be aware of the fact that Legionella can reproduce rapidly given the right conditions. This means that hot water should be stored at a temperature 60°C minimum and distributed at a minimum temperature of 50°C. Note: The distribution temperature of hot water in healthcare and care homes is 55°C.
Apart from setting the right temperature for storage and distribution of hot water, it is essential to conduct periodic checks and inspections on the water system, preferably by a trained and experienced professional. This risk assessment should also be reviewed from time to time.
In many nursing homes, water temperature is usually kept at 60°C. This not just to control the risk of Legionella but also for other purposes, including for applications like laundry and kitchen use.
The problem here is that when the water temperature increases, the residents of care homes are at risk for scalding.
With this in mind, the right question to ask is: How can you minimise the risk for both Legionella and scalding? The simplest way to prevent both Legionella and scalding in nursing care homes is to install thermostatic mixing valves. These valves prevent the discharge of water with a temperature beyond 43°C.