As workers are set to return to their workplaces after months of home office, Facility Managers need to prepare buildings to protect people's health – and pay special attention to the water systems! Here's what you need to know:
In a recent article, the New York Times raised awareness for a potential health problem that could await employees returning to their workplace after quarantine. Spoiler alert: it's not COVID, but Legionnaire's disease.
When Water Gets 'Old'
Pipes and toilet bowls are a perfect breeding ground for many an unwanted guest of the microbial persuasion. Frequent usage of taps, toilets, and co. keeps them in check, and so does regular cleaning. But what if nobody is using a facility's bathrooms, community kitchens, washers, pools, etc.?
Simply put, water that sits in pipes for days and weeks (or even months) at a time becomes stagnant and turns into a much welcomed home for germs that can cause everything from bad smells to diseases. One of the most dangerous ones is the bacterium Legionella pneumophilia which can cause Legionnaire's disease, a form of pneumonia.
One Pandemic Is Enough
There are a few things Facility Managers can do in advance of people returning to a building. We recommend that you make a list of all appliances, outlets, and machines that are hooked up to your water system. On your maintenance list, include systems that could contain standing water or rain water (pools, washers, hot tubs).
- Treat the entire water supply in a building with disinfectant
- Remove old water and refill system with fresh water
- Be careful to remove disinfectant residues from drinking water systems
- Provide staff performing maintenance with PPE – legionella can become airborne and infect people inhaling it
What measures you take will depend on the kind of water supply system in your facility, and potentially on how long a facility has been left unused – a hotel's rooftop whirlpool might be a quicker fix than a schools drinking water fountains. In any case, it's better to be safe than sorry – Legionnaire's disease is contagious and potentially deadly.
Get the Help You need
As the New York Times' article points out, there isn't a lot of data available on this issue – simply because we've never seen a situation quite like the COVID pandemic and the resulting building vacancies before. Please consult with your local health authority if you have questions.
As far as scheduling is concerned, we recommend our Enterprise Edition CMMS that allows you to set custom tasks for your Maintenance Team. Let us know how we can make your return to the workplace easier!