Schools need to make safety a priority; however, when there’s a potential threat that cannot be detected by the naked eye, what is the administration to do?
Harmful bacteria in water qualifies as one of these threats. SafetyMARK, the national safety scheme for schools, determines what steps need to be taken to ensure that safety standards are complied with in terms of premises management. The control of Legionella in water systems is definitely an issue that school managers have to be on top of.
Why should you worry about Legionella? This is the bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially fatal form of pneumonia. While the unhealthy and others who are susceptible on account of age, disease, or immunosuppression are more prone to it, anybody can contract it. Legionella can be inhaled deep into the lungs from contaminated tiny droplets of water (as with aerosols) or from droplet nuclei (gas particles left after the water itself has evaporated).
On that note, it is a sad observation that the number of school children suffering from bronchitic conditions like asthma is increasing. This means that schools have many young people who are vulnerable to infections that affect the lungs. If they are exposed to Legionella, they are at high risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease.
Schools, unfortunately, do have water systems that bear the right environmental conditions that make them possible breeding spots for Legionella, especially among those with older facilities with a significant amount of pipework. What are these conditions?
- The water is stored or re-circulated.
- The water temperature is between 20-45 degrees Celsius.
- There is rust, scale, sludge, or some other organic matter present.
- Water droplets are possibly produced and dispersed.
It’s imperative that the risk of exposure to Legionella in the school is identified and assessed. The administration then needs to ensure that the school’s water system is free of Legionella by maintaining water temperature at levels that do not encourage bacteria to multiply and by regularly flushing the taps and showers, particularly when the students are on their break.
As part of the precautionary measure, testing is definitely necessary. It is easy enough to order a Legionnaires’ water testing kit. Basically, samples are collected then sent to the laboratory. This should be carried out on a regular basis.
Using a Legionnaires’ water testing kit is a simple solution to a problem that could have a very unfortunate outcome. Schools should certainly take heed and regularly conduct testing to prevent anybody from contracting the disease on their premises.
Written by +Duncan Hollis, Aquacert