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Legionnaires’ cases highlight risk for restarting buildings

As more workers return to their offices, businesses in NSW and Victoria have been warned about the risks of Legionnaires’ disease in hibernating buildings.

Several Legionnaires’ disease cases have been notified to NSW Health, representatives of which have visited different areas of Sydney.

“Cooling water systems can be a source of Legionella bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease,” says NSW Health. “We would like to remind building owners and occupiers, and the water treatment industry, of their responsibility to ensure cooling water systems are maintained effectively in accordance with the Public Health Regulation 2012.

“Businesses reopening their premises during the easing of COVID-19 restrictions should ensure their cooling tower servicing regimen is up to date and disinfection procedure is operating correctly. Where there is any possibility that a system is not operating correctly, the system should be cleaned, and an online disinfection procedure undertaken as soon as possible.”

Water treatment specialist Hydrochem has also highlighted the risk of Legionella as businesses return to their usual premises.

“The stagnation of water within buildings is generally prevented by normal day-to-day activity that introduces fresh water into the system and causes it to recirculate naturally,” says Hydrochem CEO Mike Lenton.

“When water sits idle in a building for an extended period of time it stagnates. This can lead to the accelerated growth of microorganisms and pathogens, including Legionella, which obviously pose a health risk to the occupants.”

Lenton notes that flushing the system is an important first step, and that businesses must have a plan in place to deal with microbial detections.

Resources about managing cooling towers and Legionella are available through website of the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH).

NSW Health has produced extensive guidance on managing risk factors associated with the seasonal operation of cooling water systems, and managing shut down periods.

In Victoria, the Public Health and Wellbeing Regulations, administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on behalf of the Victorian state government, also offer clear guidance when it comes to restarting cooling tower systems.

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