Exploring the challenges of water temperature monitoring for legionella control in older buildings.
Mon 14th November 2022
Article · Mon 14th November 2022

Exploring the challenges of water temperature monitoring for legionella control in older buildings.

Older buildings could pose a greater risk to the public from legionella.

Water Hygiene professionals are fighting an up-hill battle with dated infrastructure and water systems more likely to contain the conditions needed for legionella bacteria to multiply. This is putting greater pressure on Building Services Managers and Water Hygiene specialists to prevent, or tackle legionella outbreaks in older buildings.

Why could older buildings lead to higher risks?

When conducting a Legionella Risk Assessment as part of the HSE Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) L8 and HSG274, competent individuals should consider the inherent risks in their older building that may lead to a need for more regular water temperature readings.

  • Their infrastructure could be supported by outdated technology
  • The infrastructure may have been altered over time, increasing the potential for dead-ends
  • Ageing pipework could be deteriorating, providing deposits for bacteria to feed on
  • Water, ventilation, heating, and refrigeration systems could have been in use beyond their intended lifespan
  • Less efficient building insulation could lead to greater temperature variance as the climate changes

These factors could lead to a greater variance in water temperatures. Whilst it’s impossible to eliminate all risks posed by legionella in every building, modern buildings do benefit from modern infrastructure and can be easier to monitor and control.

Legionella detection in the news

Over the weekend, local and national news highlighted the successful intervention by Engineers in the Estate Team at Southampton Police Station (https://www.itv.com/news/meridian/2022-11-12/legionella-found-at-southampton-police-station) whose proactive regime of legionella monitoring and testing had identified a small and isolated legionella outbreak in the Western Police Investigation Centre, in Southern Road

What are the potential implications of a legionella outbreak?

Whilst the outbreak has not led to any cases of Legionnaires Disease, the potentially fatal type of pneumonia contracted by inhaling water droplets containing legionella bacteria, it has caused significant disruption to the building’s users. It’s also likely to have involved considerable cost to pasteurise the water systems and make them safe, and it will have a lasting impact on the perception of safety by those who work in the building.

When outbreaks are detected in older buildings, remediation works simply return the water system back to safety. They do not eliminate the chances of its return. Managers of older buildings are required to carry out regular monitoring, testing and a regime of preventative maintenance, but the risk of legionella is higher.

This is especially true if the regime relies on manual, periodic temperature monitoring and reactive testing. As manual temperature reading leads to considerable operational complexity and cost, it can be a significant barrier to carrying out more frequent temperature readings that could help identify risks sooner. Early intervention is critical in monitoring safety and a regular water temperature monitoring routine is a fundamental tool in the arsenal.

This manual approach, combined with the need for more testing and monitoring as a result of the building's age, is likely to be insufficient to manage the risks of legionella in any meaningful way, meaning Engineers are always playing catch-up.

The challenges are compounded when a manual approach requires someone to physically be present to check the temperature of water systems. This means the dated infrastructure of older buildings are likely to continue to provide the potential for the right conditions for legionella to grow and become a viable risk.

What are the conditions that can lead to the bacteria becoming viable?

Whilst legionella bacteria can be found in trace quantities in a range of water sources, it is dormant in water below 20C and cannot survive above 60C. For the bacteria to multiply and pose a risk, there are common conditions that trigger and accelerate its growth;

  • Water that has stagnated for extended periods of time
  • Water that has spent extended periods between 20°C and 50°C
  • Water that is kept in systems that contain sediment deposits
  • Dead ends in pipework provide another place for the bacteria to be sustained
  • Hot and cold-water systems where the required temperature is not being met
  • Little used assets with extended period of no use without flushing

How is technology enabling better risk management?

Advancements to the Internet of Things (IoT) space and connected devices in industrial applications has led to a range of legionella control and prevention technologies coming to market over the past decade. Whilst their adoption has been slow, the many complexities posed by COVID on legionella control regimes and unsustainable costs of a manual approach has led to an acceleration of the use of remote temperature monitoring technology.

From digital logbooks that increase visibility and auditability of legionella control activities, to remote temperature monitoring solutions that provide a real-time picture of the temperature in critical water systems remotely, digital transformation is changing the face of legionella control, fast.

Managers of older buildings could benefit from adopting modern, simple technology to monitor their assets. This is especially true in the post-COVID world where more employees are working remotely leading to a greater number of ‘little used assets’ and more building access challenges.

This change to working patterns is a potential ticking time bomb when coupled with an ageing building infrastructure and is affecting modern buildings as well.

Find out how Remote Tech could help you to monitor older buildings more effectively

Remote temperature monitoring provides a real-time understanding of your remote assets. Regular timed readings give you a clearer picture of the true risks posed by your system. Smart sensors monitor for temperature variances to ensure that the desired temperatures are being achieved when assets are in use. Intuitive risk rating dashboards help you prioritise the assets that need the most attention.

You can find out more by visiting remote-tech.co.uk/legionella
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Adam Ginty

Marketing Manager