A Facilities Manager’s Guide to Controlling Legionella in Hotels

Hotel facility managers are responsible for maintaining the upkeep of hotels and ensuring that guests are well accommodated during their stays.

A crucial part of the facilities manager’s role is controlling the risks posed by legionella bacteria in their water systems. An outbreak of Legionella in a hotel could result in the severe illness of hotel guests and staff as well as jeopardising the reputation of the hotel.

Therefore, it is vital that facilities managers understand the hidden risk lurking in their water systems, where the legionella bacteria can be found and how it can be effectively controlled.

What is Legionnaires Disease?

Legionnaires’ disease is a respiratory disease caused by Legionella bacteria, which is naturally found in freshwater environments such as lakes and streams.

Health issues occur when Legionella bacteria spreads and grows in human-made water systems such as hot tubs, air conditioning units, decorative fountains, or large plumbing systems.

Legionnaires’ disease usually develops two to 10 days after exposure to legionella bacteria. It frequently begins with the following signs and symptoms:

  • Cough, which might bring up mucus and sometimes blood
  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain
  • high temperature
  • flu-like symptoms
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea

A mild form of Legionnaires’ disease — known as Pontiac fever — can produce fever, chills, headache and muscle aches. Pontiac fever doesn’t infect your lungs, and symptoms usually clear within two to five days.

Who is at risk?

Legionnaires’ disease is not spread through person-to-person contact. It occurs when water vapour contaminated with Legionella bacteria is inhaled.

Most healthy people exposed to Legionella do not get sick. People at increased risk of getting sick are:

  • People 50 years or older
  • Current or former smokers
  • People with chronic lung disease (like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema)
  • People with weak immune systems or who take drugs that weaken the immune system (like after a transplant operation or chemotherapy)
  • People with cancer
  • People with underlying illnesses such as diabetes, kidney failure, or liver failure

How does Legionnaires Disease impact hotels?

Hotels are particularly at risk for a Legionella outbreak, as their business model and premises both contain many of the factors necessary to facilitate the spreading of Legionnaires’ disease.

Many hotels are established older buildings where plumbing can be challenging.

Since Legionella bacteria can contaminate water droplets, any part of a hotel that has water present carries a risk of people being exposed to the bacteria should it be present.

Guest facilities, such as showers and swimming pools, and food production are some of the highest risk areas and have the potential to cause the widest outbreaks of Legionnaires disease.

Below are just some of the areas that Legionella can be found in hotels:

  • Showerheads
  • Taps
  • Fountains and water features
  • Swimming pools
  • Air conditioning or cooling towers
  • Food displays that use humidified  air
  • Hot tubs or whirlpools
  • Saunas or steam rooms

You also need to think where the legionella bacteria might have access to the nutrition it needs to multiply and thrive. This could be in biofilms in pipes and tanks, in pipes where there is little water flow (such as dead legs and in pipework leading to unoccupied rooms), and in scale in pipes, showers and taps.

How to Manage Legionella Risk in Hotels?

The risk of Legionnaires’ disease can certainly be minimised in hotels and hospitality environments if certain steps are taken.

As per health & safety laws in Ireland, an employer has the responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this.

This should start by identifying a duty holder who would be responsible for overall health & safety for the organization. Based on the size of the organization, the duty holder will need to ensure adequate processes are in place as detailed in the HPSC’s National Guidelines for Control of Legionellosis and UK HSE’s ACOP L8 documents.

The broad requirements of these guidance documents are:

  1. Appoint a Responsible Person who is competent with sufficient authority and knowledge of the installation to help take the measures needed to comply with the law.
  2. Undertake a risk assessment to identify and assess sources of risk.
  3. Prepare a written scheme of control for managing the risk. Essentially the written scheme of control can be a suite of documents including management policy, operational control procedures, and site logbook records. The policy details the management arrangements for the organisation. The operational procedures details how the risk systems identified from the risk assessment will be operated, monitored and maintained.
  4. Implementation of the written scheme of control – ensuring the management policy and the associated management tasks are undertaken.
  5. Keep the records of the precautions taken. Records can exist in either paper or electronic format, although records need to be accessible and understood.

Take the First Step with Legionella Risk Assessment

Properly managing Legionella risk requires a water management plan that includes engineering, maintenance, risk management, and legal resources.

The first step in the control and management of Legionella is to undertake a Legionella Risk Assessment. The assessment will cover every aspect of your water systems and identify the level of risk and provide the basis of a control and management programme to minimise any problems.

Water Treatment Ireland Ltd provides water hygiene and treatment services to numerous business operating in the hospitality sector across the Republic of Ireland.

Our engineers conduct thorough Legionella risk assessments and develop water management programs that are not a “one size fits all” approach.  Our programs are tailored and customized for your hotel.

Talk to our team today to know how we can help your hotel make water systems safe and compliant.