NASUWT Dr Patrick Roach concerns for Legionella risk in schools
Schools must be given time to prepare for reopening to protect pupils and staff against infections such as Legionnaires’ disease that can proliferate in dormant buildings, teachers have warned.
General secretary Dr Patrick Roach, who last week spelled out five conditions that needed to be met before schools could reopen, questioned whether the Department for Education understood the practicalities surrounding flushing out school water systems.
Dr Roach said: “Schools have got to be fully ready to be reopened and if that means flushing the water systems to make sure we’re not poisoning children or adults with Legionella [the bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease], or whatever it happens to be, that has to take place.”
He added: “The government has issued some guidance about managing school premises in relation to any opening and they have talked about the importance of flushing systems, but does the government appreciate the practicalities of that?
“If schools are going to commission water treatment specialists, they have got to find them and schedule them, and we’ve got thousands of schools who may be desperately trying to do that at pretty much the same time. So the government has got to think about the timing of any announcement in relation to relaxing the current restrictions and ensure schools have meaningful time to get ready before any partial or full reopening.”
Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia that can be lethal. It is caused by Legionella bacteria, which can contaminate unused water supplies.
The NEU teaching union says schools’ drinking fountains and showers may give rise to sprays or aerosols containing Legionella bacteria, but it says: “Provided the bacteria remain isolated in the pipework, and prompt and adequate efforts are made to deal with the problem, there should be no cause for major concern.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “While schools are partially closed, school buildings and grounds still need to be looked after to ensure they remain functional and safe. Schools are responsible for their health and safety measures and statutory compliance with regulations – this includes water safety management.
“We are also working in close consultation with the sector as we consider how to reopen schools, nurseries and colleges when the time is right, and will ensure there is sufficient notice to plan and prepare.
Owners, operators, facilities managers and staff of such education premises have clearly defined obligations that must be fulfilled if they are to remain compliant with the law governing the control and management of legionella and Legionnaires’ disease related risks in schools, colleges, universities and similar education premises.
Expert Legionella Assistance for the Education Sector
Why is it so important to control legionella in an educational environment? The first reason is that there are vulnerable people present both the young and old with a mixture of medical backgrounds who might be exposed to legionnaires disease. Secondly, legionella can grow in water systems and plumbing but it mostly favours temperatures between 20-50°C and stagnant water. Both of which regularly occur in schools.
LegionellaSafe Services Managing Director Steve Morris says “With schools having been closed due to COVID19,this has an impact on water consumption and can lead to considerable stagnant water. This combined with poor temperatures can lead to the rapid growth of Legionella. Due to the size of schools, the stored water is often in excess of 1000L. This stored water may stagnate considerably if a regular weekly flushing regime is not implemented across holiday periods or times of infrequent use.
We already work with schools to ensure their Legionella Compliance is met and are managing the maintenance requirements with regards to water flushing and checks during these unprecedented times.”
For further information and expert assistance regarding legionella risk management and compliance in the education sector call us today on 0808 133 0131 or get in touch here … contact us