Do Schools Have to Do a Legionella Risk Assessment?

We get it - risk assessments aren't much fun at the best of times. And if you've been running a school during the COVID-19 pandemic, you probably never want to see another risk assessment again, as long as you live. 

The bad news is that if you've had to close your premises for long periods of time during lockdown, there are increased risks associated with legionella. This is due to water system stagnation occurring as a result of lack of use. 

The good news, though, is that we've got your back! Read on to find out everything you need to know about legionella risk assessment for your school. 

What is Legionnaires' Disease?

It's important to know your enemy, and in this case, it's a bacterium named Legionella pneumophila. This and related bacteria are commonly found in natural river sources but in low numbers. Trouble comes when they find their way into water systems within buildings. 

Exposure to this bacteria can cause legionellosis disease. This collective term includes Legionnaires' disease, which is the most serious. It also refers to other similar but less serious conditions such as Lochgoilhead fever and Pontiac fever.

At its most serious, Legionnaires' disease can manifest itself as a potentially fatal form of pneumonia. Older people and those with pre-existing respiratory or kidney diseases are more at risk, as well as people with an impaired immune system. 

Anyone running a school, or any other public building, has a duty of care to its users to protect them from the risks of Legionnaires' disease. But where should you even start? 

How Do People Contract Legionnaires' Disease?

For any risk, you need to fully understand it before you can begin to manage it. And the risk presented by this tricksy little set of bacteria is no different. So how does exposure to this disease occur?

It's quite unusual for people to catch the disease from the legionella bacteria that are naturally present in organic water systems such as ponds, lakes and rivers. Problems arise when people are exposed to legionella growing in water systems where the temperature is high enough to provide optimal conditions for bacteria growth. 

This could be in hot and cold water systems, cooling towers, condensers and many other types of water systems in domestic, commercial and municipal properties.  

When people inhale small droplets of water from the air which contains the bacteria, they can contract legionnaires' disease. This is more likely to occur when the water temperature is between 20-45 °C at any point within the system.

There is also an increased risk where there are water outlets that allow aerosols to be dispersed, or where water is stored and re-circulated. Any areas of rust or scale increase the risk too, as these can provide a source of nutrients to support bacterial growth. 

So, now that you know all about this pesky disease, let's move on to talk a little more about risk management. Specifically, let's look at how to manage this risk in schools. 

Do I Need to Undertake a Risk Assessment for Legionella?

Anyone who runs a school has a public health duty to protect students, staff, and visitors from risk. So, the short answer to this question, unfortunately, is yes.

Sure, the risk in schools is somewhat lower than in places where there are a lot of vulnerable elderly people or sites that have large cooling towers or giant condensers. But the risk is still there, so you have to deal with it - sorry!

By putting in place a process to inspect your water systems, you can manage the risks surrounding them. This will lessen the chance of anyone coming to harm as a result of exposure to legionella bacteria on your premises.    

Who Can Carry Out the Risk Assessment?

There are plenty of people out there who can come into your school and conduct a risk assessment for you. But there's really no need. In these days of reduced budgets and austerity, you need to save money where you can. 

With the right training, someone from within the school's staff can learn to conduct the school assessment adequately. This person, who may be referred to as the duty holder, must have sufficient knowledge of health and safety requirements to conduct the risk assessment. 

How To Conduct a Legionella Risk Assessment in a School

Health and safety legislation obliges all employers or people who control public premises to understand and control the health risks associated with legionella.

You therefore need to take precautions to identify and assess sources of risk, and also manage, prevent and control these risks. Keeping and maintaining the appropriate records to demonstrate compliance is also important. 

Identifying and Assessing Sources of Risk 

Developing a full understanding of all water systems at your school is crucial. This includes all the various parts and equipment associated with each component. This is likely to include pumps, condensers, heating systems or heat exchanges and any facilities such as showers or swimming pools. 

There is a higher risk in areas of the water system where the temperature is between 20–45 °C. You also need to be mindful of anywhere where water is re-circulated or stored within the system. 

Assess if there are any conditions that could encourage bacteria to multiply. This includes any sources of nutrients, including scale, rust, organic matter, sludge or biofilms.

Another key element of your risk assessment will include whether any of the personnel, students or visitors to your school are likely to be more susceptible to infection than others. This could be due to pre-existing health conditions, age or compromised immune systems. These people need to be protected from contaminated water even more robustly than other service users. 

Preventing and Controlling the Risk of Legionella 

There are various steps you can take to prevent and reduce the risks presented by these bacteria within the school environment. Regular inspections and robust safety procedures are necessary to control the risk of legionella. You may with so consider the following steps.  

  • Regular flushing of hot and cold water systems. This includes all piping, any showerheads and taps
  • Regular cleaning and disinfecting of all outlets, including taps and showerheads
  • Staff should clean swimming pools regularly to ensure they are free of any kind of biofilm or slime which could encourage bacterial growth 
  • If you have any safety equipment which uses water, including fire sprinklers, these should also be regularly flushed
  • If you use any kind of biocide or disinfectant to clean your water systems, you need to ensure that the chemical being used meets industry or manufacturer specification

Don't forget that you need to do all of these tasks on a regular basis and record them too so that you can demonstrate compliance if needed. After school holidays or other periods of closure, full checks will be needed to ensure there is no additional risk from water stagnation. 

If this all sounds a little overwhelming - and we wouldn't blame you at all if it does - then read on, to find out how we can help you with your legionella risk assessment. 

Risk Assessment Help for Schools

We get it, we really do - risk assessments aren't sexy and they're probably not the reason you became a headteacher or chose to work in a school. But you know that you have a duty of care to everyone at your school, to protect them from risk. And that's why you're reading this article right now. 

If it all feels a little overwhelming, then our school compliance software could solve your problems. The system will help you to assess the assets on your premises and work out which tasks need to be carried out when. Then it will remind you when to do them! Which makes the whole thing a lot less of a headache.

There is also a portal that allows maintenance requests to be submitted, making it easy for staff and members of the management team to keep track of pending tasks. There's also a facility for incident and accident reporting. 

We can help out with training too. Health and safety isn't everyone's specialist interest, but a little bit of input from us can save you money in the long run. It means you can run your own legionella risk assessments and various other mandatory checks, without having to pay expensive consultants to come onto your premises to conduct the checks for you. 

Reduce the Risk, Lighten the Load

2020 was the year of the risk assessment for many of us, and 2021 looks set to be no different. While the shadow of the pandemic is still hanging over us, risk management is here to stay. 

If you'd like some help with your school assessment for legionella, or any other aspect of risk assessment or health and safety management, don't hesitate to get in touch with our friendly team. We'd love to chat and help you to lighten the load.