Avoid potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease by checking water before reopening

Businesses and other services looking to reopen from Monday 29 March should ensure they carry out vital safety checks to avoid increasing the risk of the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease in their water supply, the LGA and CIEH urge.


Person washing hands in the sink

Businesses and other services looking to reopen from Monday 29 March should ensure they carry out vital safety checks to avoid increasing the risk of the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease in their water supply, the LGA and CIEH urge.

With many businesses and buildings closed for months, the chances of bacteria forming in the water systems is more likely.

The Chartered Institute for Environmental Health (CIEH) has published guidance for businesses following the COVID-19 lockdown.

This advice includes flushing cold water systems with fresh mains water as well as increasing the temperature of hot water systems to above 60°C.

Legionnaires’ disease can be contracted by breathing in small droplets of contaminated water in the air, and it can cause fever, a dry cough and pneumonia, with the potential for increased susceptibility during or after contracting COVID-19.

There were 295 recorded cases of Legionnaire’s disease with symptom onset between January and October 2020, despite the closure of many businesses.

Cllr Nesil Caliskan, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

“We are all hopeful of a safe reopening of businesses in the coming weeks as we ease out of the national lockdown. However, many water systems will not have been used in a long time and should be checked to avoid any unnecessary risk of Legionnaires’ disease, which can be potentially deadly.

“Councils will be able to provide additional advice for businesses and many will have materials on their websites. The CIEH also has a wealth of resources so ensure businesses understand the risks and how to mitigate them.”

Julie Barratt, President of CIEH, said:

“Many businesses, large and small, will be gearing up to re-open and welcome customers back on 12 April. However, Legionnaire’s disease is a serious risk after such a prolonged period of closure for many businesses.

“Whether you run a hairdressing salon or a clothing shop, it is important to take a few simple steps to prevent the risks prior to business re-opening by flushing through water systems – especially any water tanks – at the appropriate temperatures. CIEH guidance published during the first lockdown provides a simple guide for all businesses.”

Case studies

Notes to editor

  1. The Chartered Institute for Environmental Health has published a guide to lockdown risks of Legionnaires’ disease and reopening safely. Legionella Guidance & COVID-19 - CIEH (English). The guidance is also available in Welsh.
  2. The planned roadmap of reopening businesses can be found on the gov.uk website. Reopening businesses and venues - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
  3. Legionella monthly reports January to October 2020 – gov.uk