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Back to the Future: Safety 4 Tips for Returning to Your Pre-Pandemic Workplace
Good news: After two years of working out of our living rooms/yoga studios/family crafts centers, offices are opening back up, and many of us are returning to our pre-pandemic workspaces. The troubling challenge is that reactivating dormant or barely used buildings could bring some unexpected heath issues.
Beyond the burned-out light bulbs or malfunctioning elevators, visiting the washroom can pose a real safety threat. Toilets or water dripping from leaky faucets are havens for germs, breeding grounds for mold and can even trigger Legionnaires’ disease, a respiratory infection caused by breathing in bacteria.
The threat of Legionnaires’ disease is particularly high due to buildings being left empty for long periods. The disease often presents similar symptoms to COVID-19, so it is at risk of being misdiagnosed.
“We’ve spent the last year battling COVID-19 cases, but there’s another potential health risk that businesses need to be aware of,” says Adrian Thompson, a PPL Water Hygiene and Legionella Training Consultant working with NSF International. “The threat of Legionnaires’ disease is particularly high due to buildings being left empty for long periods. The disease often presents similar symptoms to COVID-19, so it is at risk of being misdiagnosed.”
So what can we do about this health threat lurking in our office water pipes? Our experts offer these tips you may just want to share with your HR director or building manager:
Recognize the Problem
Legionella can develop and multiply within water systems in the office, including faucets, decorative water features, plumbing and HVAC systems. Water stagnation, or low flow, is essential for the Legionella bacteria to grow. With many offices left empty and water systems not being flushed regularly, workers face an increased risk.
Up-Front To-Do List
Flush water systems regularly before employees return to the workplace. Increasing the temperature of hot water systems above 140° F (60° C) will kill Legionella bacteria over time. However, thermostatic mixing valves and other plumbing options should be installed so employees don’t get scalded when washing their hands.
Update the building’s risk management assessment and water safety plan. Disinfection and sampling of the water system can also help determine where there may be an issue with unsafe water.
Install Water Filter Systems
There are NSF-certified microbiological purifiers (NSF P231) that reduce bacteria, cysts and viruses in drinking water. Though they are not directly tested for killing Legionella, an NSF-certified P231 system would reduce this type of bacteria in the office’s drinking water.