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Firms urged to check air con systems for silent killer

01 October 2015

After a new outbreak of and the 13th fatality from Legionnaire’s disease in New York this summer, national maintenance training experts, Develop Training Ltd (DTL), are warning UK businesses to take heed and thoroughly check air conditioning units in workplaces to protect employees and visitors

Legionella is a pathogenic group of Gram-negative bacteria that is responsible for the dangerous, and often fatal, Legionnaire’s disease. The deadly condition, a rare form of pneumonia contracted when victims breathe in the bacteria in airborne water droplets, achieved notoriety after a string of high profile fatalities but has fallen off the radar in recent years as the number of cases in the UK has dwindled.

These bacteria live naturally in environmental water sources but if they get into water systems in buildings they can cause a risk to humans through air conditioning systems, showers and spa pools. Legionella thrives in damp environments and during the warmer months, air conditioning units are a potential breeding ground.

DTL, whose clients include major utilities, construction firms, health bodies and facilities managers, has published a new air-con safety guide for managers at and urges organisations to carry out these three checks as a minimum.

1. Make sure central air conditioners have been professionally inspected and adjusted

2. Unless it has been done in the past month, clean or replace the filter, evaporator and condenser coils, and continue to do this monthly while the system is operating

3. Ensure air conditioning systems were professionally cleaned and serviced before this summer, and make a note to have this happen every year

Victoria Smedley, delivery manager at DTL, said: “There is a danger that organisations may not be taking the risk of Legionella seriously enough, or perhaps have forgotten about it as there have been relatively few high-profile cases recently. The fear is that air conditioning units have either been inadequately serviced or not at all prior to their summer workout.”
She pointed out that many cases of Legionnaire’s Disease go unnoticed as the symptoms are similar to common pneumonia, and the risk remains. In one case last year, at least four people contracted the condition after an outbreak at a factory in Boldon, South Tyneside.

DTL is leading the charge against Legionella with a new range of training courses, created in partnership with The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH). Its Legionella awareness qualification provides learners with an understanding of the risk, how to control it and the warning signs to look for in areas where the bacteria can replicate, providing employers with employee vigilance as the first line of Legionella defence.

The training covers steps that maintenance teams can take to keep their systems safe. These include:

1. Avoiding water temperatures and conditions that favour the growth of legionella and other micro-organisms

2. Ensuring water cannot stagnate anywhere in the system by keeping pipe lengths as short as possible or removing redundant pipework

3. Keeping the system and the water in it clean

4. Treating water to either control the growth of legionella (and other microorganisms) or limit their ability to grow

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